Lockheed backs out of competition for next phase of tanker recap

By Shelley K. Mesch  / October 23, 2023

Lockheed Martin has dropped out of the running for the next phase of the KC-135 tanker recapitalization effort, propping up Boeing’s chances to extend its KC-36 Pegasus delivery order.

“We are transitioning Lockheed Martin’s LMXT team and resources to new opportunities and priority programs within Lockheed Martin, including development of aerial refueling solutions in support of the U.S. Air Force’s Next-Generation Air-Refueling System (NGAS) initiative,” company spokeswoman Stephanie Sonnenfeld Stinn said in an email.

The news was first reported by Reuters.

The LMXT proposal had been planned as a competitor to Boeing’s KC-46 for the second phase of the recapitalization effort. Lockheed partnered with Airbus to modify that company’s A330 into a tanker with General Electric-made engines.

Lockheed decided not to respond to a request for information on the subject issued in mid-September, Sonnenfeld Stinn said.

Airbus still has the option to submit its own option for a tanker outside of its partnership with Lockheed, which a spokesperson said the company plans to do.

“Airbus remains committed to providing the U.S. Air Force and our warfighters with the most modern and capable tanker on the market and will formally respond to the United States Air Force KC-135 recapitalization RFI,” Sonnenfeld Stinn said. “The A330 U.S.-MRTT is a reliable choice for the U.S. Air Force: one that will deliver affordability, proven performance and unmatched capabilities.”

Boeing, which is currently under contract for KC-46 deliveries under the first phase of the recapitalization, also plans to respond to the request, company spokeswoman Didi VanNierop said.

Boeing had no further comment on this phase of the program or on whether the company plans to compete for NGAS, VanNierop said.

Air Force officials shook up the recapitalization effort and its timeline when Secretary Frank Kendall and acquisition chief Andrew Hunter announced in March that the service would reduce the buy on the second phase to instead call for bespoke platforms for refueling a decade sooner than previously proposed.

The service wants to begin fielding an NGAS platform by the end of the next decade rather than the end of the 2040s, officials said. This platform or platforms would not be commercial derivatives and could require some stealth capabilities to penetrate combative territory for refueling missions, Kendall said in March.

Because of the speedy timeline for NGAS, Hunter said the service would likely only buy about 75 of the tankers for this phase rather than the previously expected 140 to 160 planes.