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Tanker-Force Structure: Recapitalization of the KC-135 (Maxwell Paper, Number 32)

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Aerial refueling is key to the nations global reach in response to operations in all parts of the world. As such, aerial refueling provides the bridge for air, joint, and coalition forces to deploy anywhere, anytime around the world. It is important in this era of transformation that the tanker force and doctrine of aerial refueling also meet the challenges of the Air Forces task force concept of operations CONOPS. The KC-135 aircraft has been an outstanding platform for aerial refueling, and through some enhancements, it has been able to leverage some of its capabilities in airlift and communication. However, the Air Force has the opportunity with its next class of tankers to field a tanker with capabilities that can serve all the services in the more demanding joint and coalition warfare of the future. The author challenges air mobility warriors to develop a tanker-force structure that overcomes the thinking of old to launch new concepts and capabilities for the future. He argues that the future of warfare will require a tanker that is able to operate as a force enabler across the full spectrum of operations. The Boeing 767 is being considered as a replacement for the older KC-135s, which the author agrees with. However, he argues, it will not fit the bill when it comes to meeting the challenges of the future -- instead, a tanker designed from the ground up should recapitalize the KC-135 fleet. The tanker of the future cannot resemble the single-role tanker of the past. The author outlines a conceptual tanker that combines airlift and aerial-refueling capabilities, is able to survive in a combat environment, and is able to act as a platform to enhance network-centric warfare. He also examines the chronology of the tanker, and the role it has played throughout military history.

Subject Categories:

  • Transport Aircraft
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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