Lockheed Martin Drops Out of Air Force ‘Bridge Tanker’ Competition

Its LMXT strategic aerial refueling tanker had been expected to take on Boeing's KC-46 as a contender for an interim update under the KC-135 fleet recapitalization program.

Lockheed Martin is bowing out of competing for the U.S. Air Force’s “bridge tanker” program and instead focusing on developing a next generation air-refueling system (NGAS) concept, the company announced Monday.

The manufacturer’s LMXT strategic aerial refueling tanker, unveiled in 2021 and based on an Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport, had been expected to take on Boeing KC-46 Pegasus as a stopgap refueling option for the Air Force in seeking an update for its aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet. 

“Lockheed Martin has decided not to respond to the U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 fleet recapitalization request for information (RFI),” the company said in a statement Monday. “We are transitioning Lockheed Martin’s 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 (NGAS) initiative. We remain committed to the accelerated delivery of advanced capabilities that strengthen the U.S. Air Force’s aerial refueling missions.”

Airbus responded to the development, saying it intended to go forward with the bid.

“Airbus 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,” Airbus said in a statement. “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 bridge tanker competition is expected to produce at least 75 refueling aircraft as an interim step before the service proceeds with its next-generation tanker expected to come online in the 2040s. 

On September 14, the Air Force issued an RFI from interested companies with the capability to deliver a commercial derivative air refueling system. Responses are due Thursday.


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