L3Harris [LHX] and Embraer [ERJ] are pitching the KC-390 Millenium tactical tanker for U.S. Air Force helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
The plane, which would have multiple refueling options, including a boom and a remote system, could offload 75,000 pounds of fuel and take off on a 5,000 foot unimproved airstrip.
For remote boom operations, Luke Savoie, president of L3Harris’ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance division, on Monday said that L3Harris is able to draw upon its Distributed Aperture System (DAS) experience, including the company’s work as the original provider of the electro-optical DAS for the Lockheed Martin
[LMT] F-35 fighter. “We’ve continued to mature those technologies across the board, whether it’s image processing, our focal plane arrays, getting things in incredibly low latency,” Savoie said. “Stitching cameras or interacting with cameras is kind of a foundational capability of ours. How you apply the command and control to that or operator control and interaction, I would say, is another core capability of ours.”
Gen. Duke Richardson, head of Air Force Materiel Command, said during a roundtable at the Air & Space Forces Association that the idea is an interesting one but that there is no existing requirement for an Air Force tactical tanker.
L3Harris CEO Chris Kubasik, who said that he briefed Pentagon leaders on the proposal last week, said that the struggles of the Boeing [BA] KC-46 tanker did not spur the tactical tanker idea.
“We would have pursued this opportunity either way,” he told reporters at the Air & Space Forces Association annual conference at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center on Sept. 19. “We listen to customers. You look at the operations analysis. You look at the gaps. There’s a need for a tactical tanker.”
L3Harris said that an Air Force KC-390 would build off the tanker’s use for the Brazilian military, that such a tanker would complement strategic Air Force tankers, like the KC-135 and KC-46, and that the KC-390 would fit within the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment construct.
Enhancements “include the addition of advanced boom operations and mission systems to support agile basing and sustainment for operations in contested areas, and resilient communications supporting JADC2 requirements,” L3Harris said.
L3Harris and Embraer, to support the Buy American Act requirements, “are studying the Agile Tanker program production with final assembly in the U.S., followed by aircraft modernization and missionization at the L3Harris’ Waco, Texas, aircraft modification center,” per L3Harris.