No Tanker Relief With Fighter Cut

The proposed Fiscal 2010 reduction of 250 legacy fighters from the Air Force’s inventory, announced April 6 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, will not diminish the need for a new tanker, nor even decrease the numbers required in early batches, says Rebecca Grant, director of the Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies. Speaking April 30 in Arlington, Va., on the institute’s new Mitchell Paper, The Tanker Imperative, Grant said the existing KC-135R fleet will soon be in such a precarious condition that there must be no delay in buying a new platform. “Such is the urgency” for a new tanker, she said, and so diverse are the worst-case scenarios that tankers must be available to meet, that any reduction in fighters now wouldn’t put a dent in the requirement for a first phase purchase of 179 new KC-X tankers. “Simply cutting 200, 300, or 400 fighters does not change” the need, Grant said. She noted, for example, one ominous trend with the KC-135s: The typical depot stay for them—tamped down in the recent past—has been creeping back up, from 180 to 240 days. One KC-135 recently had to spend more than 500 days in depot for airworthiness repairs, she said. (For more from Grant’s discussion on tanker recapitalization, read Daily Report entries Double Up and Pound Foolish)