As the U.S. Air Force nears a decision on a buy of up to 75 tankers to fill the gap between the planned fielding of the 179th Boeing [BA] KC-46A Pegasus in 2029 and the expected fielding of the Next Generation Air Refueling System in the mid-to-late 2030s, Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Airbus on June 6 said that the companies have chosen General Electric‘s [GE] CF6-80E1 engine for the Lockheed Martin/Airbus LMXT strategic tanker offering.

The Air Force may begin an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) on NGAS in fiscal 2024 (Defense Daily, March 7).

The service has decided to end the KC-Y program for buying 150 commercial tankers as a bridge to NGAS. The NGAS AoA is to examine various attributes, including stealth, advanced protection systems, connectivity, and improved range/fuel efficiency that NGAS may need to operate effectively against high-tech adversaries. KC-Z was not to field until the 2040s, so NGAS would represent a decade’s acceleration of a future tanker.

Based on the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport, the Lockheed Martin/Airbus LMXT is likely a leading candidate for the Air Force’s possible buy of 75 tankers as a bridge to NGAS. The companies said on June 6 that building GE’s CF6 engine will support more than 3,000 jobs in more than 25 states.

The CF6, which entered service in 1971, is carried on 70 percent of wide-body planes, including the Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy transport by Lockheed Martin, according to Lockheed Martin and Airbus, adding that the companies’ choice of the CF6 for LMXT “followed a competitive selection process focused on delivering a best-value solution to the U.S. Air Force.”

“In selecting an engine that is already in use on multiple U.S. Air Force platforms, the LMXT aligns with a common supply chain and existing knowledge base that can translate to increased mission readiness rates,” the companies said.

Lockheed Martin said that LMXT will have “seamless integration with NGAS”; will deliver to the Air Force by 2030, if the service picks it; and has a fully certified boom and remote vision system for refueling the F-22, F-35, F-16, F-15, A-10, B-1, C-17, E-7 and P-8.

LMXT may help lessen the Air Force demand for pilots, Lockheed Martin suggested. The service had a shortage of 1,900 pilots in fiscal 2022.

“The LMXT provides equivalent boom in the sky with less aircraft for the near-peer fight,” per Lockheed Martin. “In the Pacific (~1,500 nm), ~44% fewer LMXT tankers are required to maintain constant presence on station compared to the KC-46 and KC-135. At Pacific ranges, 110 LMXTs provide the equivalent of 159 KC-135s — the capacity of nearly four additional squadrons.”

The fuel capacity of LMXT is to be 271,700 pounds–59,000 more than the KC-46 and 71,000 more than the KC-135.