Air Force May Scrap KC-10 Tanker Fleet: General


The U.S. Air Force is considering scrapping its fleet of KC-10 refueling tankers in response to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, a general said.

The option is being considered as part of planning for the service's budget for fiscal 2015, according to Gen. Paul Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command, based at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

The service requires 479 tanker aircraft, Selva said. The current refueling fleet is mostly made of up KC-135s, dating from the 1950s, with several dozen KC-10s, dating from the 1980s. The Air Force's top acquisition priority is to build a new KC-46A tanker to replace about a third of the KC-135s. All three of the aircraft are made by Chicago-based Boeing Co.

Having a variety of tankers is costly and "prevents you from buying the new fleet," Selva said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday at the Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference and Technology Exhibition at National Harbor, Md.

"If you do horizontal cuts, you achieve small efficiencies across a very large force," he added. "If you do vertical cuts, where you essentially divest of an entire weapon system ... then you achieve greater savings over a shorter timeline."

The Air Force may also get rid of excess C-130 cargo planes made by Lockheed Martin Corp., Selva said. The service currently has about 340 of the aircraft, but only needs less than 300, he said.

Selva's comments came a day after Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning seemed to indirectly confirm a Defense News article that the service is weighing shedding its fleets of A-10 attack planes, KC-10 refueling tankers and F-15C fighter jets, as well as canceling a new search-and-rescue helicopter program, due to the budget cuts.

“Everything is on the table,” Fanning said. “We are looking most closely at single-mission fleets.”

The Defense Department faces $500 billion in automatic cuts over the next decade. That’s in addition to almost $500 billion in defense reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment of the automatic cuts began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach an alternative agreement on taxes and spending. The next round takes effect in fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1, and is estimated at $52 billion.

Fanning said he recently advised congressional staffers that combining the indiscriminate reductions with a series of stop-gap measures to fund the government, known as continuing resolutions, or CRs, would be the “worst-case scenario” for the military. Yet with political parties in Congress deadlocked on a budget deal, that’s precisely what may happen.

Meanwhile, the new KC-46A refueling tanker may dodge the budget ax altogether, according to Maj. Gen. John Thompson, who manages tanker programs from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The Air Force plans to spend $52 billion buying 179 of the so-called KC-46A aircraft, a derivative of the 767 twin-engine jet airliner, to replace a third of its fleet of Cold War-era KC-135 Stratotankers, also made by the Chicago-based company.

"There's considerable amount of uncertainty relative to sequestration," Thompson told a separate audience Tuesday at the conference. "As the No. 1 modernization program, though, I'm sure that the secretary and the chief and the rest of the Air Force leadership will do what they can to protect this very critical program."

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