Tankers vs. ISR

Apparently, the demand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance outweighs the need for tankers. An Air Mobility Command spokeswoman tells the Daily Report that AMC can bear to give up three KC-135R tanker aircraft that have been promised to Britain. They will be converted starting in Fiscal 2010 to RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence platforms to replace British Nimrods that have passed the end of their service lives. The RC-135, the spokeswoman said, is a limited supply/high demand asset and making some available to the Brits “will be a significant step to relieve stress in this vital mission area, improve interoperability, and improve overall warfighting capability in our coalition operations.” To make up for the three fewer tankers, USAF will temporarily allow a higher utilization rate on remaining KC-135Rs, assign more crews, and adopt some “efficiencies” in the KC-135R schoolhouse such that fewer aircraft will be needed there—basically, making up the real-world flight hours in the simulator. (Also to note: AMC is winding down flight operations of its remaining KC-135Es; by the end of September, there will be 37 remaining in the fleet, but all will be grounded pending retirement.) As the new KC-X tanker comes online, the Air Force will also need fewer aircraft in the KC-135 schoolhouse. But the spokeswoman noted that “these are short-term fixes that will allow us to bridge to the KC-X, but are not sustainable in the long term.”