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Web Letter

The old KC-135 tanker is based on the Boeing 707 aircraft, which has been out of production for nearly twenty years. It is simply not possible to build new model tankers on that design. Nor is it possible to extend the service life of an operational airframe forever. At some point, the old KC-135s become truly obsolete, too costly to maintain and worthy of replacement with a newer system.

The article is somewhat misleading in citing only the B-2 bomber as the refueled aircraft for the new tanker. In fact, air refueling tankers are required for all military aircraft operations including bombers, fighters and transports. There is no practical way to move C-17s, F-15s or F-22 across the globe without mid-air refueling by tankers. To consider building a fighter with true intercontinental unrefueled range would result in a preposterously large and overly expensive aircraft. Reasonable sise and performance dictate the need for air refueling to extend effective range of the aircraft.

For these reasons, the new USAF tanker program was launched. Both Boeing and NGC/EADS proposed modifying an in-production and mature airframe with the required refueling equipment and other electronics desired by the USAF. The apparently staggering sum of $35 billion is actually much cheaper than designing a new airframe from scratch for the mission.

John Reagan

St. Louis, MO

Jun 30 2008 - 12:54pm

Web Letter

During the early part of the cold war, we were dependent on a bomber force for a second srtike capacity. The reason LeMay had some of his bombers in the air was to prevent them from being destroyed on the ground. Pearl Harbor educated the military services not to put all your eggs in one basket. We were lucky our carriers were not in port on December 7. My first job was in the Air Force as a munitions specialist in the late 1950s. My job description covered conventional munitions, not nuclear weapons. We had some SAC bases in England, but there were no tactical nuclear weapons there. They were deployed on the mainland of Europe. The reasoning behind their deployment was that the Soviet Union, with a larger population, could field more troops than we, combined with our allies, could. We were therefore dependent on firepower to survive.

However, I am in general agreement with this article. I do not see why we should reinvent the whole complicated piece of equipment, and upgrading the basic airframe we have with advanced systems would be cheaper. I too am leary of spending a large amount of money on new fighters. The A10s and the Marine Corp version of the Harrier are good attack aircraft that are well designed for the types of wars we are fighting. We could also upgrade the fighters now in the inventory. I want to see the Star Wars missile defense systems scrapped. They are too expensive, useless, and nothing but corporate welfare. We also need to get private enterprise out of the military. We would save a bundle of money just using regular troops.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Jun 27 2008 - 3:55pm

Web Letter

I enjoyed Robert Scheer's article concerning the DOD tanker contract. However, I have not seen anyone challenging the very need for a new tanker in the first place. I would like to know why we could not just make new versions of the KC-135, which would spare us the cost of developing a totally new plane. I have heard various rationales put forward for the need to incorporate up-to-date technology and defensive weaponry into a new plane, but I would like to know why. I have never heard of a military tanker having been downed by enemy fire and, after all, this is just a flying gas tank we are talking about.

Robert Mahoney

Temecula, CA

Jun 27 2008 - 8:12am