We have been bringing you updates on the drone tankers that the U.S. Air Force plans to deploy in the near future. Currently, USAF is stuck with Boeing's KC-46 which has a host of problems, and therefore, embarked on a new journey to find a tanker that will serve as a 'bridge' till the autonomous ones are ready. Jumping into the fray is Lockheed Martin, which recently unveiled the LMXT.
The USAF's KC-135 tanker fleet is scheduled for a phase-out by 2025. Boeing fought hard to win the KC-X award around the turn of the last decade and only began delivering the KC-46s towards the end of this one. But after multiple complaints about the aircraft, which also received questions about the acquisition process, USAF finds itself looking for an alternative that is not only hassle-free but can also be delivered quickly.
Maryland-based Lockheed Martin has jumped at this opportunity by fielding a time-tested workhorse, the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) with a few USAF-specific upgrades, of course.
With a fuel capacity of 271,700 pounds (123,241 kg) and an almost 20-hour endurance, the LMXT which stands for 'Lockheed Martin Next Tanker', is being projected as the solution to all that ails the USAF right now. The A330 MRTT is also in use by 13 nations, many of them US allies, has logged more than 250,000 flight hours, and comes with the ability to refuel a wide range of U.S. fighter aircraft such as F-35s, F-22s, F-16s, F-15s, A-10s, C-17s, to name a few, that is not only certified but also currently in use.
Along with an open architecture Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) system, Lockheed is also promising an advanced camera and vision system and the world's first fully automatic boom/air-to-air refueling (A3R) system, a major problem area for the KC-46s currently.
To shrug off the European origins of the aircraft, Lockheed plans to assemble the LMXT in the U.S., making it an aircraft "built by Americans, for Americans."