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Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Sat Mar 11, 2017 2:13 pm

A fair-use quote from AvWeek (free registration required);

Strapped for cash to buy Boeing’s new KC-46 tanker in sufficient numbers to fully replace the legacy fleet, the U.S. Air Force is looking instead to outfit its 60-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker with state-of-the-art survivability upgrades so it can fly for another 40 years.

The service is buying 179 next-generation KC-46s as the first step in an ambitious effort to recapitalize its tanker fleet. But even after Boeing’s Pegasus is fully fielded in fiscal 2028, the remaining 300 KC-135s will be the backbone of the force until the future KC-Y or KC-Z comes online in the 2030-40 timeframe.

In fact, the joint force will rely so heavily on the Stratotanker in the coming decades that the aircraft could be 100 years old before it is sent to the boneyard, according to Gen. Carlton Everhart, chief of Air Mobility Command (AMC).


It goes on to point out a big issue is the way the Congress is running the country on continuing resolutions and how it makes it impossible to move money from procurement to operations/maintenance and vice versa.

It sickens me the way the DoD speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

At least it was able to make Boeing bleed on the KC-46 contract, but I'm sure Boeing will find a way to make up their losses and then some.
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Ozair
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Sat Mar 11, 2017 10:48 pm

Revelation wrote:
A fair-use quote from AvWeek (free registration required);

Strapped for cash to buy Boeing’s new KC-46 tanker in sufficient numbers to fully replace the legacy fleet, the U.S. Air Force is looking instead to outfit its 60-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker with state-of-the-art survivability upgrades so it can fly for another 40 years.



Any tanker is essentially a flying target so I see no way the USAF can make the KC-135 more survivable or any more survivable than a KC-46. Unless by survivability the author means updated electronics so spares are actually available 20 years from now?
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:35 am

Revelation wrote:
At least it was able to make Boeing bleed on the KC-46 contract, but I'm sure Boeing will find a way to make up their losses and then some.


Maybe by soaking them for the KC-135 upgrades. :devil:
 
CX747
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Sun Mar 12, 2017 4:17 am

Some of the first KC-46s are going to be based at McGuire and Travis. Both of those are large KC-10 bases with no AD KC-135s in sight. I'm not quite sure how that is "replacing" the 135 fleet. Potential end to the KC-10 fleet?!?!

This could be useful posturing to purchase more -46s as there will be the argument that pumping more $$$ into the KC-135 fleet is a waste. I just can't see retreading the 135s again. At some point someone has to say ENOUGH. The frames are old, rusty and worn out after 25+ years of massive use over the Middle East. This isn't the height of the Cold War where they sat on ramps awaiting the call.

Either way, Boeing supports the KC-135, KC-10 and builds the KC-46. With the Trump administration in charge I don't foresee years of bleak military budgets ahead. If I was in charge of the AF, I'd have the -46s coming as fast as possible over the next 8 years.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Sun Mar 12, 2017 8:26 am

Revelation wrote:

It goes on to point out a big issue is the way the Congress is running the country on continuing resolutions and how it makes it impossible to move money from procurement to operations/maintenance and vice versa.

It sickens me the way the DoD speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

Actually, I would argue that the DoD is speaking with two real issues at hand; recapitalization and maintaining the existing fleet until it can be recapitalized. The USAF needs new aircraft very soon because the existing ones are up against their service lives and are about to go obsolete. However, in order to be able to fight today, they need the existing fleet to be combat capable and ready, thus investments need to be made to keep the existing fleet operational and relevant for the time being.

The back story is that in government budgetary parlance, there is a concept called 'colour of money'. What this concept means is that Congress through passing of its budgets and appropriation bills, specifies how the money should be used for in the DoD budget. Specifically, it means that a certain amount of money is allocated to a specific financial account, be it Procurement, Research and Development (R&D), Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and others.

The issue is that money from one account CANNOT be used for another purpose; for example, if I have a surplus at the end of fiscal year in Procurement, and I am short money for O&M, I cannot take the surplus funds from Procurement and put it into O&M. It's illegal and in violation of the Misappropriation Act if one does so without Congressional approval.

So, basically, a KC-135 upgrade project would draw its funds from O&M (with a bit of money going into R&D), while buying new KC-46's would fall under Procurement.

The USAF has in the past tried to get wise on this; witness the KC-767 lease proposal. Basically, the original KC-767 lease was budgeted under O&M because as it was a lease, and because the USAF didn't own the aircraft, it wasn't technically a procurement, and thus USAF could use O&M funds to pay for the lease. Furthermore, as O&M funds aren't subject to the same level of Congressional oversight as Procurement funds, the USAF thought they could get this approved very quickly and quietly. That all went to hell as soon as it was discovered that corruption was involved in securing the contract for that...
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Sun Mar 12, 2017 10:10 am

Stitch wrote:
Revelation wrote:
At least it was able to make Boeing bleed on the KC-46 contract, but I'm sure Boeing will find a way to make up their losses and then some.


Maybe by soaking them for the KC-135 upgrades. :devil:


*If* Boeing gets that contract...
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Mon Mar 13, 2017 2:38 am

I just see this a posturing to make sure the KC-46 is solidified.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Mon Mar 13, 2017 3:05 am

CX747 wrote:
I just see this a posturing to make sure the KC-46 is solidified.

Agree, it provides the rationale to transition KC-46 production straight into the KC-Y contract. No need for a competition given there is an already in production tanker with 170+ frames in the fleet. KC-Y was always about KC-135 replacement anyway.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Mon Mar 13, 2017 10:36 am

Ozair wrote:
CX747 wrote:
I just see this a posturing to make sure the KC-46 is solidified.

Agree, it provides the rationale to transition KC-46 production straight into the KC-Y contract. No need for a competition given there is an already in production tanker with 170+ frames in the fleet. KC-Y was always about KC-135 replacement anyway.


Yet the article makes the interesting point that even if they wanted to replace the KC135 fleet in the near term they could not do it because the KC46 production rate is pretty low, so some investment in the KC135 is inevitable.

Personally I think KC46 happened 20 years too soon. The main thing killing off the KC135s is metal fatigue. It would have been wiser to replace the KC135s with CFRP based airplanes. We see now that KC135 actually is viable for another 40 years despite the crap that was said during the tanker debates.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:39 pm

Perhaps the AF has decided that rival nations increasingly viewing taking out tankers as a tactical aim of their forces means that they need to rethink how to handle refueling needs. There has been a lot of discussions about whether a stealth tanker is needed to help the F-35, F-22, and B-21 be able to get the fuel they need for missions in contested airspace without risking the extremely vulnerable conventional tankers they currently depend on. There have been proposals for stealth tankers, as well as rumors of possibly modifying the B-21 for buddy tanking.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Tue Mar 14, 2017 7:31 pm

The Navy is looking VERY strongly at using a UAV for tanker duty. There is already development on stealthy UAVS for carrier duty with several demonstrators having been used on carriers already. Given that the US uses hose and drogue, a stealth UAV tanker could orbit in a clean configuration for long periods of time, deploy the drogue only when needed, and auto return to the carrier when it needs to refill. This is not an extremely difficult skillset to master.

The USAF has a much bigger problem here as boom is a more difficult concept. It will take an AI flying the boom to work with a manned fighter or other craft to make a successful link. It isn't insurmountable, but it is a more difficult task. The other problem for the USAF is that making a fully stowable boom is also more complicated than a hose and basket, and takes up a lot of volume, requiring a larger tanker for the needed capacity. In addition, since the boom must be rigid, and thicker, it will have a larger unstowed radar return than an unwound refueling hose and plastic basket. All of this means that their tankers will have to sit farther from the battlespace, even if generally stealthy, than the navy tankers. This may not be as big of a deal as the navy tankers will have problems with holding significant fuel volume to begin with. Currently, an F-18 on buddy duty can fuel up two (or more if total fuel offload is limited) other f-18s on a strike mission. A tanker based on any of the demonstrators used thus far would struggle to fuel even one. Anythong that's based on a flying wing with a thin profile will be rather volume limited to even fit properly on a carrier. If you bloat the fuselage, you loose a lot of inherent form stealth and costs skyrocket as you have to make that up with material stealth by using more exotic coatings, etc.

This is one reason that the airforce has put so much development into the B2 and B21. They are very long range stealth bombers and don't need to refuel anywhere near to the enemy territory. It's also why they are developing stealthy ALCMS for stand off strikes.

I think that the Navy will have stealth tankers first as they need them more. The air force is a long way away from them.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Tue Mar 21, 2017 12:35 pm

Revelation wrote:
Personally I think KC46 happened 20 years too soon.


Boeing had no other choice. Without the KC-46 contract, the 767 production line would have been dead by now.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:45 pm

KarelXWB wrote:
Revelation wrote:
Personally I think KC46 happened 20 years too soon.


Boeing had no other choice. Without the KC-46 contract, the 767 production line would have been dead by now.


Yes, my point is the USAF should be operating a tanker that's mostly plastic/carbon not metal, since the thing that will kill off the KC-135s is metal fatigue.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Tue Mar 21, 2017 9:22 pm

Revelation wrote:

Yes, my point is the USAF should be operating a tanker that's mostly plastic/carbon not metal, since the thing that will kill off the KC-135s is metal fatigue.

When I look at what is potentially available for a future tanker platform I don't see metal fatigue as an issue. Far more interesting is the promise of unmanned operations, BWB airframes for longer endurance and potentially arming a tanker with self defence DEW.

In that light, perhaps KC-46 arrived at the right time. The USAF can continue acquiring KC-46 for as long as they need to until some/all of the above features become available. At that point the USAF can acquire tactical tankers better equipped for FEBA operations and leave the KC-46 to rear area ops.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:44 am

There will ALWAYS be a need to drag shorter ranged fighters and transports back and forth across the oceans during peace time. Having a newer, more economical tanker to do that can only help in the long run.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Mar 22, 2017 11:20 am

Ozair wrote:
Revelation wrote:
Yes, my point is the USAF should be operating a tanker that's mostly plastic/carbon not metal, since the thing that will kill off the KC-135s is metal fatigue.

When I look at what is potentially available for a future tanker platform I don't see metal fatigue as an issue. Far more interesting is the promise of unmanned operations, BWB airframes for longer endurance and potentially arming a tanker with self defence DEW.

In that light, perhaps KC-46 arrived at the right time. The USAF can continue acquiring KC-46 for as long as they need to until some/all of the above features become available. At that point the USAF can acquire tactical tankers better equipped for FEBA operations and leave the KC-46 to rear area ops.

The post above was interesting, it says as you increase the size of the tanker to get a useful size you lose your stealthy characteristics, so that is no panacea.

Unmanned operation is a big win but will be a very costly path for DoD to follow. Oh yeah, I forgot, they have inifinite money to spend. Thanks, Donald!

My opinion comes from reading that the KC-135's cause of death will be metal fatigue, and is one of the costliest items to deal with at depot service time. We should have kept the KC135s alive another 20 years (which even the DOD admits is feasible) till the 787 era tech is cheap and used that to replace the KC135s.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Sun Mar 26, 2017 4:56 am

Revelation wrote:
Ozair wrote:
Revelation wrote:
Yes, my point is the USAF should be operating a tanker that's mostly plastic/carbon not metal, since the thing that will kill off the KC-135s is metal fatigue.

When I look at what is potentially available for a future tanker platform I don't see metal fatigue as an issue. Far more interesting is the promise of unmanned operations, BWB airframes for longer endurance and potentially arming a tanker with self defence DEW.

In that light, perhaps KC-46 arrived at the right time. The USAF can continue acquiring KC-46 for as long as they need to until some/all of the above features become available. At that point the USAF can acquire tactical tankers better equipped for FEBA operations and leave the KC-46 to rear area ops.

The post above was interesting, it says as you increase the size of the tanker to get a useful size you lose your stealthy characteristics, so that is no panacea.

Unmanned operation is a big win but will be a very costly path for DoD to follow. Oh yeah, I forgot, they have inifinite money to spend. Thanks, Donald!

My opinion comes from reading that the KC-135's cause of death will be metal fatigue, and is one of the costliest items to deal with at depot service time. We should have kept the KC135s alive another 20 years (which even the DOD admits is feasible) till the 787 era tech is cheap and used that to replace the KC135s.


I read articles a decade ago that proposed upgrading all KC-135E's in Air National Guard units to KC-135R, but instead of building new CFM engines for them, just take the engines off KC-135R's entering depot maintenance and putting them on other KC-135R's as they exit the depot. That way all the remaining KC-135's would use CFM engines.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Mar 29, 2017 7:34 am

LightningZ71 wrote:
There will ALWAYS be a need to drag shorter ranged fighters and transports back and forth across the oceans during peace time. Having a newer, more economical tanker to do that can only help in the long run.


Actually I'd say it's a need for war time only. Of course you need to be ready during peace times, but the US is continuously involved in one war or another, creating them if need be.

The US has how many times more tanker aircraft than all other nations on the planet combined ?

China is not waging war anywhere, which doesn't mean it's a peaceful country, but their Air Force is clearly geared towards defending the country. They have virtually no tanker.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Mar 29, 2017 7:42 am

As for the technological aspect of things, some kind of B2 style tanker (manned or unmanned) would seem the most logical. Of course made much cheaper !

All current tankers aren't dedicated platforms and as a result are inefficient, carrying a fuselage full of air for nothing. If you only look at costs that's fine, but if you want a tanker than can really be used in the battlefield, against a capable enemy, it's not what you want. A plastic, stealth flying wing is the way to go.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Mar 29, 2017 1:57 pm

You need to keep in mind that most US tankers aren't "pure" tankers. Instead, they also double as cargo aircraft. Often times, when a squadron redeploys overseas to another base of operations, even if its just to fulfill NATO obligations which aren't part of an active war, a tanker is used to not only carry the fuel needed for the fighters to fly directly to the new base (reduces frame hours and cycles to not have to hop from airport to airport) but the tanker often also carries baggage for the pilots, support gear for the fighters, and other related cargo for the move. So, while a pure tanker could certainly drag a fighter across the pond, it wouldn't have the cargo capacity to carry the ancillary equipment needed and would then require an additional aircraft to carry that equipment anyway. Now, you've turned what would have been a group of four fighters and a tanker, into the same fighters, a tanker, a cargo aircraft, and more associated expense. And, before someone tries to bring it up, yes, there are small cargo pods that have been developed for the fighters to carry small loads with them. Those would not be sufficient in the situations described above, which is a very common one.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:18 pm

Aesma wrote:
As for the technological aspect of things, some kind of B2 style tanker (manned or unmanned) would seem the most logical. Of course made much cheaper !

All current tankers aren't dedicated platforms and as a result are inefficient, carrying a fuselage full of air for nothing. If you only look at costs that's fine, but if you want a tanker than can really be used in the battlefield, against a capable enemy, it's not what you want. A plastic, stealth flying wing is the way to go.


Makes one wonder what the military really thinks of the cost/benefit of making tankers survivable.

One wonders if enough stealth can be applied to make a tanker that is large enough to be of use also be invisible to the enemy, and if it can be done now, how long that advantage would persist as the enemy improves its skills/technologies. One knows the cost of doing so will be enormous, but since defense contractors are also big political contributors the skids are already greased (ref: drums are already being beaten to get a F-22 replacement project started).

One wonders if large, non-stealthy, unmanned tankers that will more-or-less be sacrificial lambs might be a more economic approach to the problem. That would avoid the cost of developing a stealthy tanker and dealing with human loss, at the cost of developing the automation to perform the role of tanker pilot and boom operator.

All kinds of tradeoffs here, no?

Of course, in the days of infinitely empowered DoD, we might as well go for uber-expensive unmanned stealthy tankers, social programs be damned!
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Mar 29, 2017 7:46 pm

Stealth for a tanker depends a lot on what it's really going to be doing.

If the tanker is going to be penetrating enemy airspace, it needs to be as stealthy as the fighters that it is serving. That will require something that is roughly there size, or slightly larger, but optimized for all aspect stealth over maneuverability and weapons carriage. You'd get something that looks like the old Northrop N9M, but with refueling drogues where the prop hubs were and jets buried in the wing, and about the same size or a bit bigger. If its not a penetrating asset, like what we use loitering edge of airspace tankers for now, then it doesn't have to be as stealthy as it's orders of magnitude harder to detect an aircraft that's 100 miles away then one that's just 20 miles away. Those types of missions can be flown by larger, blended wing tankers that aren't as aggressively stealthy or are optimized for being low observable against long range air search radars as opposed to the tracking radars of AAMs and SAMs. The other thing to keep in mind for those sorts of tankers is that they will also be operating with electronic warfare assets nearby. Its hard enough to pick up a semi stealthy object at a long distance, trying to burn through ECM at the same time is even harder. For USAF assets, the larger tankers will be more important as they have to deal with the complication of using the flying boom to refuel with. The boom assembly is inherently less stealthy than a smaller hose and drogue set as well, forcing USAF tankers to be farther away from the front.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:54 pm

LightningZ71 wrote:
Stealth for a tanker depends a lot on what it's really going to be doing.

If the tanker is going to be penetrating enemy airspace, it needs to be as stealthy as the fighters that it is serving.

Existing tankers can operate in the battle theater without stealth and I'm sure they are expected to do so, especially if the contested airspace is deep or the target(s) is outside of attack aircraft range. They would need to be supported by EWCM aircraft, which would provide jamming of enemy radar and other sensors.
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Thu Apr 20, 2017 1:47 am

redflyer wrote:
Existing tankers can operate in the battle theater without stealth and I'm sure they are expected to do so, especially if the contested airspace is deep or the target(s) is outside of attack aircraft range. They would need to be supported by EWCM aircraft, which would provide jamming of enemy radar and other sensors.

What you're talking about would be the exception and not the rule. GW1 & 2, the Balkans and even Libya showed us that the SOP was for tankers to be deployed outside the battlezone protected by fighter assets. While there are examples of US tankers going into contested airspace the examples are few and far between and current tanker platforms, excluding specific C-130 variants, are not configured to fly and fight in contested airspace.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Thu Apr 20, 2017 6:14 pm

Ozair wrote:
redflyer wrote:
Existing tankers can operate in the battle theater without stealth and I'm sure they are expected to do so, especially if the contested airspace is deep or the target(s) is outside of attack aircraft range. They would need to be supported by EWCM aircraft, which would provide jamming of enemy radar and other sensors.

What you're talking about would be the exception and not the rule. GW1 & 2, the Balkans and even Libya showed us that the SOP was for tankers to be deployed outside the battlezone protected by fighter assets. While there are examples of US tankers going into contested airspace the examples are few and far between and current tanker platforms, excluding specific C-130 variants, are not configured to fly and fight in contested airspace.


Would F-18's with buddy tanks be considered to have the capability to tank in contested air space?
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Thu Apr 20, 2017 10:15 pm

spudh wrote:
Would F-18's with buddy tanks be considered to have the capability to tank in contested air space?

Perhaps. I did a quick google search and found only one image of a SH with any type of war load while buddy tanking and that constituted 2 AIM-9X and a AIM-120 but the tanking SH only had two external fuel tanks and refuelling pod. Current practise is to tank before entering contested airspace and then on return. For that to work you would need the buddy refuelling SH to provide fuel for a strike package, and realistically perhaps only a couple of jets in that package, before it has to RTB for its own fuel considerations. We know SH is draggy with that many fuel tanks (canted pylons) so a buddy tanking SH likely has potentially higher fuel burn. Subsequently it or another SH is potentially required to meet the strike package once it exits contested airspace to top them up before transit to the carrier. If your SH strike package is transiting to contested airspace the carrier is likely to be a decent distance off shore, extending the distances involved for all members on and supporting the strike, including tanking assets.

The other side is the desire for anyone to tank in contested airspace. Yes the systems on a buddy tanking SH will provide it with situational awareness and it still has a decent AESA up front but there are few fighter pilots that would be comfortable tanking in contested airspace and potentially adding seconds to their response time. The draggy profile of the buddy SH also doesn't provide an airframe that is optimized for defending itself or evading and escaping. A quote from a classic and SH pilot,

Something the Rhino can do that the Hornet can’t is be an aerial tanker. I personally have not flown one in that configuration, but I hear that the jet performs as a pig. That is no surprise with all of that drag and 30,000 pounds of gas. As an LSO, I can tell you a “5-wet” tanker is much more prone to settle below glideslope behind the ship and requires a bit more reaction time to get back above glideslope. The mission is important, however, and has provided me both mission gas and recovery gas during an emergency at the ship.

https://fightersweep.com/5334/ask-fighter-pilot-hornet-vs-super-hornet/

Doesn't mean there isn't a need for this type of mission and probably why the USN is seeking an unmanned tanking asset over a strike/ISR for carrier deployment but even buddy tanking with a SH in contested airspace would be an exception, not the norm.
 
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Re: Short On Cash For KC-46, U.S. Air Force Eyes Souped-Up KC-135

Fri Apr 21, 2017 12:57 am

In summary, current dedicated US tankers are not survivable assets, and buddy tankers are scarcely better. If your enemy has forward aspect stealthy fighters, like the recent PLAF development, that has long range and BVR ASMS with 100nm+ range, your tankers will be vulnerable at more than the range of your strike fighters from a safe tanking distance.

To solve this, you need longer range fighters, stealthy tankers, better sensors and stealthy stand off weapons. The US solution to this is that the F-35 carries a higher fuel fraction than its predecessors, the US is in development of a low observable stand off cruise missile, and we continue to develop better radars and signal processing systems. The missing link is a tanker that has a small RCS for edge of battlespace loitering, and full stealth drone companion tankers. They need not be single role either. They can do double duty as a tanker and stealthy missile truck, hanging back with a few BVR AAMs in a weapons bay that can receive remote targeting information as well as carrying passive sensors designed to operate as a mesh radar receiver network for radar returns from high powered AWACS radars thar are located well outside of the battlespace. This would be serviceable as the dirty little secret of stealth is that little of the radar signal is actually absorbed, and most is scattered away from the signal source. Having dispersed receivers can allow you to build a tracking solution for a target to allow for a successful intercept at range. Having a small fleet of stealthy drones can make for a workable sensing mesh for an attacker.

The KC-46 is not a part of this plan. It is a replacement for the utility tankers that fill the US inventory. It's larger interior cargo capabilities as opposed to the KC-135 make it more flexible for the utility role. In my opinion, they should buy enough of them to replace the 135s and the KC-10s. Then, once the program is mature, work on a low visibility edge of battlespace tanker. The penetration tanker/drone would have to be a companion project to whatever replaces the F-22 and also be available to the USN.

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