The U.S. Air Force may issue a set of requirements for the commercial derivative KC-Y tanker this fall, followed by an acquisition decision next spring.

“We’re waiting for requirements to come out from the Air Force,” Paul Waugh, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s program executive officer for mobility and training aircraft, said on Aug. 11. “We think it will be sometime in the fall. Once we’ve got a set of requirements, we can figure out what the acquisition strategy looks like.”

Waugh said that the “prime contenders” for KC-Y have been working on a business case analysis for KC-Y to help inform the requirements set.

The Air Force has been examining whether to go forward on a program to buy 140-160 KC-Ys to fill the gap between the planned final delivery of the 179th Boeing [BA] KC-46A in 2029 and the future KC-Z tanker, which may include stealth, connectivity, and fuel efficiency advances.

“Some of that [KC-Z] technology may make its way into KC-Y or KC-135,” Waugh said on Aug. 11.

The KC-46A fleet and possible future tankers would replace more than 400 Boeing KC-135s and KC-10s in the coming decades.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] has been gearing up for a KC-Y competition and, in January, said that the company plans to build the LMXT refueler, based on the Airbus A330, in Mobile, Ala., and Marietta, Ga. (Defense Daily, Jan. 31).

The baseline for KC-Y may be the KC-X requirements, which resulted in the KC-46A award to Boeing.

Air Force Materiel Command’s KC-Y program has outlined a number of challenges for commercial derivative aircraft, such as the KC-46A Pegasus tanker (Defense Daily, July 20).

“Primary depot support challenges surround unscheduled maintenance and unplanned parts supportability discovered during schedule letter checks,” the program said on July 13 in a response to questions from an unidentified contractor. “Additionally, parts tracking once they are in supply has been problematic, as well as engineering disposition challenges for repairs outside of task orders. Lastly, excessive and repetitive inspections to meet FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] requirements based on commercial flying program versus USAF flying hour program has been a challenge.”

“Letter checks” are scheduled maintenance with A and B checks falling under light maintenance, while C and D checks fall under heavy maintenance.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 3 that “as we looked at the requirements, it doesn’t look as necessary or as cost effective as it once did to introduce another aircraft as KC-Y.”

Nevertheless, the KC-Y program office is continuing its work, should the Air Force decide to move forward on KC-Y.

The House’s version of the fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill would allow the Air Force to buy KC-Y without an open competition but would require the Air Force secretary to explain such a decision (Defense Daily, June 23).