The Air Force is to study service tanking needs to inform a possible, upcoming solicitation for commercial tankers.

“The objective of this work is to complete a report suitable for submission to Congress that is an effective and legally defensible commercial aerial refueling study and business case analysis,” the Air Force said on Oct. 13 in a sources sought notice to firms interested in performing the study.

The 763rd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron at Scott AFB, Ill., “is interested in the identification of capable sources for technical, programmatic, research, data analytics expertise, and assessment to determine if a shortfall in USAF day-to-day peacetime air refueling capability exists,” per the Oct. 13 notice. “The study will be part of a larger effort directed by the Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF) to support a decision regarding the potential USAF use of commercial air refueling tankers. The study will explore a range of plausible assumptions that could drive the future demand for peacetime air refueling, as well as a range of assumptions on the ability of the USAF to meet that demand with the planned organic fleet. If it is determined a potential shortfall exists, this study will identify the specific factors that contribute to it in order to provide the foundation for follow-on analysis to assess cost-effective alternatives to mitigate the shortfall.”

The study may lead to a formal solicitation for a nationwide Commercial Aerial Refueling (COMAR) study.

As the Air Force works to resolve the remaining Category 1 deficiencies on its Boeing [BA] KC-46A tankers, the service has been preparing to move forward on the KC-Y, a commercial “bridge tanker” to fill the gap between the delivery of the 179th KC-46A tanker in 2029 and the future KC-Z tanker (Defense Daily, July 21).

The “bridge tanker” would supplement the KC-46s and the remaining Boeing KC-135s, as the service develops the next-generation KC-Z.

The Air Force has said it will seek bids from companies that are able to build 140-160 Commercial Derivative Tanker Aircraft to supplement the Air Force tanker aircraft fleet at the end of KC-46 production to bridge the gap to the KC-Z tanker. The Commercial Derivative Tanker Aircraft is to be operational by 2030.

Last October, Air Mobility Command (AMC) said that the service’s tanker fleet in 2029 would consist of 179 KC-46As and 300 remaining KC-135s, if the Air Force meets its fielding plan for KC-46s by that date (Defense Daily, Nov. 4, 2020).

The Air Force may have to move to a “bridge tanker” sooner than 2030, if the delivery of 179 mission capable KC-46s slips past 2029.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] is offering its “LMXT” design for the U.S. Air Force’s anticipated KC-Y tanker competition (Defense Daily, Sept. 17).

AMC has been looking at a number of options for KC-Z, including stealth, large size, autonomy, and piloted.

Lockheed Martin has said that it is exploring the idea of a stealthy, autonomous tanker for KC-Z.