Artist's conception of the once-proposed LMXT tanker.

Artist's conception of the once-proposed LMXT tanker. Lockheed Martin

Lockheed bows out of Air Force tanker competition

Erstwhile partner Airbus said it would still bid against Boeing and its KC-46.

Updated: Oct. 24, 9:48 a.m.

Lockheed Martin will not compete to build the Air Force’s next tanker aircraft, a move that bolsters Boeing’s position to sell the service more KC-46s.

The company “has decided not to respond to the U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 fleet recapitalization request for information,” Lockheed spokesperson Stephanie Stinn told Defense One. Reuters first reported that Lockheed would not compete.

Lockheed and Airbus had teamed up to offer the LMXT, 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. 

Asked if Airbus will bid on the competition without Lockheed, an Airbus spokesperson told Defense One on Oct. 24 that the company "remains committed to providing the U.S. Air Force and our warfighters with the most modern and capable tanker on the market and will formally respond to the United States Air Force KC-135 recapitalization RFI. The A330 U.S.-MRTT is a reliable choice for the U.S. Air Force: one that will deliver affordability, proven performance and unmatched capabilities."

The Air Force needs to buy at least 75 more tankers to provide aerial refueling services until its future tanker—the next-gen aerial refueler, or NGAS—arrives in 2035.

Lockheed is moving the “LMXT team and resources to new opportunities and priority programs within Lockheed Martin, including development of aerial refueling solutions in support of the U.S. Air Force’s Next-Generation Air-Refueling System initiative. We remain committed to the accelerated delivery of advanced capabilities that strengthen the U.S. Air Force’s aerial refueling missions,” Stinn said. 

Earlier this year, the Air Force’s top weapons buyer said the service would likely just buy more KC-46 tankers from Boeing, in addition to the 179 KC-46s it’s already buying, but other service officials said in August that nothing is certain.

The next tanker buy could be “potentially satisfied by the KC-46, but we still have to do our due diligence. It's always been that way. I've honestly not felt pressure from Congress or from within the Air Force to do anything different than what we were already doing,” said Scott Boyd, the Air Force’s deputy program manager for mobility aircraft.

Decreasing the next tanker buy to 75 aircraft made it tougher for the Lockheed-Airbus team to compete since the companies would have needed to set up assembly lines in the United States. 

The Air Force would have needed to buy at least 110 planes for Lockheed to compete, Greg Ulmer, executive vice president of Lockheed’s Aeronautics business, previously told Defense One.