Get ready for the tanker wars, part two.
Airbus is teaming up with Lockheed Martin to take on Boeing’s troubled aerial tanker with an American-made version of the European company’s A330 jetliner. The widebody plane was at the heart of a proposal that first beat, then on appeal lost out to, Boeing’s KC-46 tanker in a Pentagon decision cloaked in patriotism and controversy more than a decade ago.
If Airbus and Lockheed win the expected contest for the next phase to overhaul the U.S. tanker fleet, Airbus pledges to add an assembly line for A330 jets at its factory in Mobile, Alabama. They would be the first twin-aisle aircraft to be assembled at the manufacturing hub, which was created in the wake of the earlier competition. The aircraft would be flown to Lockheed’s Marietta, Georgia, facility to be converted into LMXT tankers.
Airbus would still build A330 aircraft near its Toulouse, France, headquarters for non-U.S. customers and outfit them in Spain with equipment that turns the jets into aerial gas stations. The company has won orders for more than 50 of its current tanker, the A330 MRTT, from 13 countries.
Boeing has racked up billions of dollars in costs working through technical glitches on the KC-46, which is based on the 767 jetliner. The U.S. Air Force’s latest schedule shows that work to fix, verify and install a remote vision system used to guide in-air refueling won’t be completed before 2026, 15 years after the plane-maker won the contract.
Boeing said by email that the latest generation of the KC-46 “is proven and matured for the next stage of combat air refueling capabilities and airborne battle management.”