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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force’s future KC-Z tanker could usher in a massive technological leap forward, with autonomy, low observability and flying wing designs possibly playing a role in the program.
As enemy air defenses improve, the Air Force may need a penetrating aerial refueling tanker that can move forward in conjunction with stealthy fifth-generation aircraft like the F-22 and F-35, Air Mobility Command head Gen. Carlton Everhart told reporters Tuesday.
A study, slated to begin this year, will help the service decide the path forward, but Everhart said officials likely will skip past a KC-Y competition, either folding in modifications to the KC-46A or directly transitioning to the KC-Z.
“Once that study is done, then we’ll start programming, and we’re looking around the 2030 to 2035 area in the budget where it gains us the opportunity to be able to procure a new follow-on tanker,” he said during a round-table discussion at the Air Force Association conference.
Science and technology (S&T) funding for KC-Z has already been covered under the KC-46 programme, Everhart says.
“We gleaned some... funding off the KC-46 to help evolve the next programme,” he says. “S&T – we’ve already paid for it, it’s already been done.”