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The Air Force is looking for more fuel offload compared to the smaller KC-135 tanker, but less than that carried by the larger KC-10, according to Grant. “The extra fuel on station [at long range] pays off” in the studies dealing with future warfare, she says. Operational burdens in future conflicts may be less because there will be fewer manned tactical aircraft to refuel, another result of tightening defense budgets. But they may be increased again by the need to service unmanned surveillance and strike aircraft from both the Navy and Air Force.
In addition, any work to add sensors to the tankers also will have to wait, she says. However, the extra time on station will make the joint surveillance and tanker mission more likely to be a success, Grant says. Moreover, the new tankers are designed with more electrical power, additional cooling and upgraded electronics to accommodate add-on sensors and make the tankers into information nodes.