We reported on recent discussion about the new Combat Search and Rescue aircraft (currently CSAR-X); there is also need to replace the CSAR HC-130 tanker fleet. (DR 12/07/05) Air Force Special Operations Command is working on a proposal for the CRT-X. Lt. Col. Tim Healy, special requirements aircraft deputy division chief on the Air Staff, told reporters last week that the initial capabilities document being developed right now will look at whether to augment the existing Hercules fleet or replace it. AFSOC wants initial operational capability with a replacement by 2011, but Healy said that date is not hard because there is a lot of analysis remaining. The Air Force had a plan in the late 1990s to convert C-130Es, but center wing box issues with the aircraft made that option “unviable,” he said. The number of replacement tankers need to be “at least” 46, Healy said, with the possibility of a higher number after analysis is complete. AFSOC currently has 37 HC-130s.) CSAR tankers “are hurting,” Healy added, noting that much of the fleet is grounded for maintenance currently.
Boeing’s receipt of the 10th lot contract award for the KC-46 Pegasus this week leaves just three lots left to complete the Air Force’s buy of the tanker, although a further buy of 75 additional aircraft as a “bridge” to the Next-Generation Aerial-refueling System (NGAS) seems increasingly likely.