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.
St. Louis, MO
Jun 30 2008 - 11:54am