Sudden Early Retirement

Air Mobility Command disclosed June 25 that it plans to retire all its remaining KC-135Es by the end of September. As recently as February, the plan had been to ask Congress to let just 38 of the oldest tankers go, with the rest serving out their time until retirement by about 2016 or so—about when the first KC-X tankers were to have reported for duty to replace them. AMC did not immediately provide an explanation as to why it had so sharply moved up the timetable on the KC-135E’s exit. There are 86 E models in the Total Active Inventory, including active, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve aircraft. A spokesman for the command said that KC-135E personnel will be shifted to the KC-135R to help that aircraft “mitigate the shortage of tankers” until the KC-X begins to come on line. AMC said it will have to endure “a temporary shortage of tanker aircraft in inventory.” He also said the decision to retire the KC-135Es was irrespective of the recent delay in the KC-X contract. The Government Accountability Office last week recommended setting aside the KC-X contract, upholding Boeing’s protest that the competition was fraught with mistakes that unfairly favored the winner, Northrop Grumman. The Air Force has until Aug. 15 to declare its intentions about how it will proceed with the tanker replacement process.