As the U.S. Air Force develops systems to operate from austere locations and counter adversary attempts to disrupt U.S. military supply chains, the service is seeking “revolutionary” ideas on the future teaming of the Next Generation Air Refueling System (NGAS) and the Next Generation Airlift (NGAL) platform.
“The Joint Force must be able to effectively deploy, conduct, and sustain operations against peer competitors in contested environments,” according to an Oct. 25 Air Force Life Cycle Management Center business notice on the Department of the Air Force Mobility Cross-Cutting Operational Enabler (COE) initiative. “To accomplish this, Next Generation Refueling and Airlift Teams of Systems must provide a mix of survivable, connected, and agile mobility platforms that reliably provide range, flexible payloads, and unique capabilities in a contested environment, which are critical to operational effectiveness.”
“Potential adversaries will contest the Joint Force’s logistics in any future fight, necessitating an array of mobility capabilities that can survive in operationally relevant numbers,” the notice said. “Moreover, this mix of survivable and agile mobility platforms should have minimal infrastructure reliance and will be capable of maneuvering offensive and defensive Joint Forces relative to the pacing challenge.”
“The COE team is less interested in small solutions to small challenges or incremental solutions resulting in marginal improvement. We must be revolutionary in our thinking and future force design,” AFLCMC said.
On Oct. 24 at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, 19 companies participated in a Mobility COE industry day, which “provided an opportunity to connect requirements users, the mobility and training aircraft acquisition arm, and defense industry to create solutions,” AFLCMC said.
California-based California-based JetZero is teaming with Northrop Grumman [NOC] on an Air Force Blended Wing Body (BWB) demonstrator aircraft, which may inform NGAS and NGAL–both of which are to operate in high-threat environments over long distances, including the Pacific theater (Defense Daily, Aug. 17). JetZero has said that the BWB is to be able to carry twice the fuel of the Boeing [BA] KC-46A tanker.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks has said that a BWB aircraft could offer fuel savings of 30 percent over traditional aircraft.
Under the BWB concept, the wings are not distinct from the aircraft body but blended into it, and the engine may be on top of the aircraft or embedded in the airframe to provide more lift, range, payload, and less acoustic signature.
An NGAS/NGAL lower radar cross section design, such as BWB, could enable the aircraft to accompany the stealthy F-35 and future B-21 Raider bomber on missions.
Boeing was one of the 19 companies at the AFLCMC Mobility COE industry day on Oct. 24.
“Historically, tankers were designed to provide fuel outside of threat range, distanced from the tactical edge,” the company said. “As near-peer range and lethality have increased—and time on target becomes ever more crucial—maximizing maneuverability throughout the operational theater has become critical to the future battle. Both the KC-46A Pegasus and MQ-25 Stingray showcase the agility necessary to support assets closer to the fight.”
“The KC-46A tanker can access more small bases, austere airfields and limited runways and also features unprecedented combat-ready defensive systems and countermeasures to detect, avoid, defeat and survive threats,” Boeing said. “Because it can launch from dispersed locations and operate in contested environments, the KC-46A facilitates ‘more booms in the air’—more refuelers spread throughout the operational theater and closer to the battlespace.”