Artist's conception of the LMXT tanker

Artist's conception of the LMXT tanker Lockheed Martin

GE Joins Lockheed in Lobbying for New Tanker Competition

Coalition turns up heat three months after USAF said they’d probably just buy Boeing.

Lockheed Martin and Airbus are adding General Electric to the team that is pushing the Air Force to open its next tanker purchase to competition, bolstering political support on Capitol Hill.

If the Air Force does open up its “bridge tanker” purchase to bids, the Lockheed-Airbus offering, dubbed LMXT, will use GE Aerospace’s CF6 engine, Larry Gallogly, director of the LMXT campaign, told reporters on Tuesday. The aircraft would be a new version of Airbus’ Multi Role Tanker Transport, or MRTT, an A330-based tanker built in France and Spain and flown by 14 militaries.

In March, Air Force officials said they would likely just buy 75 more Boeing KC-46 tankers to add to the 179 that the service is currently purchasing. These will provide aerial refueling services until yet another future tanker—the next-gen aerial refueler, or NGAS—arrives in 2035.

But if the Air Force does decide to hold a competition, Gallogly said that their team would only be able to bid if the service orders enough tankers to make it worth expanding the necessary production lines. He declined to give a specific number, but said there was a “breaking point” and that “obviously, more is better.”

“We have looked at our business case, and we have messaged to the Air Force that the lower the number is, the more difficult it will be for our team of Lockheed, Airbus, and GE to remain competitive,” Gallogly said.

He did not say whether the Air Force’s planned purchase of 75 tankers—roughly half of earlier projections—was too few.

Gallogly said the LMXT team reckons the NGAS program will likely proceed like other recent Air Force efforts—that is, more slowly than planned.

“We believe that's a very, very aggressive target for a full developmental program,” he said.

And if NGAS is delayed, the “bridge tanker” buy could grow “quite substantially” to 150 or beyond, Gallogly said.

Indeed, he said, the team is banking on it.  

Lockheed and Airbus are still in this competition because “we think it will be more toward the 2040 timeframe before we have an operational NGAS aircraft—just based on the history of a full developmental program,” he said.  

The Air Force will finish its acquisition strategy by the end of this year, Gallogly said, and “at that point, we will know if we'll be looking forward to a great competition to drive the best value for the customer or if the customer has decided to sole-source the aircraft.”

Boeing is expected to bid its KC-46 for the bridge tanker order if the Air Force does decide to hold a competition. 

The engine selection follows previous announcements that Lockheed and Airbus will expand operations in Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas to build the LMXT. If selected, the tanker will first be produced as an A330 airliner at Airbus’ facility in Mobile, Alabama, and then head to Lockheed’s facility in Marietta, Georgia for tanker conversion. Airbus will produce the LMXT’s aerial refueling boom system in Arkansas.

Gallogly said the Air Force is “very familiar” with the CF6 family of engines, which also powers the C-5 and Air Force One, and “has a great record of durability and reliability.”