Airbus and Lockheed Martin have secured a contract to build refueling tankers for the U.S. military. The U.S. military maintains a fleet of refueling tankers that are used specifically to refuel other jets in midair. These tankers can carry up to 150,000 pounds of fuel, allowing them to refuel multiple jets during a single refueling operation. But the U.S. military needs more refueling tankers to sustain its current growth rate, and it appears that military officials have selected Airbus and Lockheed Martin to build them.
There’s been a back-and-forth battle between Airbus and Boeing to build refueling tankers for the U.S. military. The Department of Defense (DOD) initially selected Boeing to build the refueling tankers back in 2011. Since then, however, the aerospace giant has yet to deliver a single refueling tanker to the DOD. As a result, the U.S. military has decided to partner with Airbus and Lockheed Martin. The two private aerospace organizations will work together to build new refueling tankers for the U.S. military.
Neither Airbus, Lockheed Martin nor the DOD have provided details of the contract. We only know that it involves building refueling tankers for the U.S. military. There’s no word on what type of refueling tankers the two companies will build, how many they’ll build, how much they’ll cost or when they expect to deliver them to the U.S. military. With that said, the order will likely include dozens of refueling tankers, each of which costing millions of dollars.
Both Airbus and Lockheed Martin have developed aircraft for the military in the past. Specifically, Airbus has been instrumental in providing the U.S. military with helicopters. It produced the Tiger attack helicopter, for example, which first entered service in 2003. Since then, Airbus and Lockheed Martin have continued to work closely with the U.S. military to develop and provide it with aircraft.
Earlier this year, Airbus announced that it performed the world’s first pilotless midair refueling with a large aircraft. Up until then, all midair refueling operations were performed under the control of at least one pilot in the cockpit of the refueling tanker. In July, though, Airbus performed a pilotless midair refueling operation using its Automatic-to-Air (A3R) system. Using one of its A310 refueling tankers, Airbus successfully performed seven automatic, pilotless contacts with an RAAF-30A jet. While it’s doubtful that Airbus and Lockheed Martin will provide the U.S. military with these A3R refueling tankers, it still attests to Airbus’s innovative approach.