A New, High-Tech Mission for Tankers?

The Air Force’s tanker fleet could not only be a resource to both onload fuel to the military’s fighters and intelligence-gathering aircraft, but also a way to offload data from that aircraft, the service’s top mobility officer said. Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Carlton Everhart, speaking at AWS17 last week, said that while the service’s fighters, such as F-35s and F-22s, gather up data in operations, a tanker that comes in to refuel the aircraft could offload that sensor data to free up the cache of the sensors. The Air Force has more than 11,000 mobility aircraft, “Why not use them as relay platforms?” Everhart said. The offloading of data could be automatic when the fighter comes in for gas, and be able to extend the intelligence-gathering capability of the fighter, he said. The possible future mission came as part of a discussion on the future of the Air Force’s fusion of command and control, and Everhart said his mobility fleet could have untapped potential in expanding this mission. A mobility aircraft, such as a C-17, could collect data on its mission, where threats could be during a specific airdrop for example, and then relay out that information to other aircraft for potential target gathering, he said.