On to the Stealthy KC-Z

Air Mobility Command is dumping the 15-year-old strategy of replacing the KC-135 and KC-10 with the KC-X, KC-Y, and KC-Z, turning KC-Y into a “bridge” buy of KC-46s and shifting toward an advanced technology approach for the KC-Z, Gen. Carlton Everhart, head of Air Mobility Command, told reporters at ASC16. “The KC-Y is the KC-46” and then “we want to jump to the KC-Z … in the 2030-2035 timeframe.” The KC-Y was to have been a competed tanker acquisition program to recapitalize the remainder of the KC-135 fleet, but Everhart sees that now as a “KC-Y-plus,” or KC-46 with advanced communication relay systems and other upgrades; possibly lasers that will automatically shoot down incoming missiles. The KC-Z might not be a large-size tanker, he said: it might be a smallish unmanned autonomous vehicle that could penetrate an anti-access, area-denial system along with F-35s and other stealth combat aircraft. Studies are underway now, Everhart said, and he is meeting with industry at the AFA conference to explore the realm of the possible. “We are engaging with industry to find out from them … What are you thinking about?” for a next-gen tanker, Everhart explained. Everything will depend on available money, but Everhart said he’s looking at blended/hybrid wing designs already appearing as industry concepts.