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Acquisition of new tankers top priority for USAF

Northrop Grumman's KC-30

WASHINGTON, DC (BNS): The commander of US Transportation Command, Air Force Gen Duncan J McNabb told the Senate Armed Services Committee that acquiring a new fleet of Air Force tankers, known as KC-X until an airframe is chosen, is imperative.

"My top priority remains the recapitalization of our aging tanker fleet," Air Force Gen Duncan J McNabb told the senators. "The KC-X will be a game-changer."

The US Air Force (USAF) operates the largest tanker fleet in the world, which supports all its military services and the integrated Joint Force, and is critical for enabling the US to quickly project power against threats anywhere on earth.

The General said that the aircraft, designed to be a refueller with cargo-carrying capability, will revolutionise the mobility world the same way the C-17 did for in-theater and strategic airlift. “It will be the ultimate mobility force multiplier,” he said.

The Air Force selected Northrop Grumman/EADS for the tanker project last year, but rival bidder Boeing protested the decision and bidding was reopened after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) found flaws with the process.

McNabb said that Transcom aircrews flew 900 sorties per day. “That’s a takeoff and landing every 90 seconds – sometimes in the most austere areas like Antarctica, sometimes in the most dangerous, like a forward operating base in Afghanistan,” McNabb said.

The general also told the senators about the newly developed supply routes to Afghanistan via the northern distribution network. “The supply network uses commercial rail and boat to ship non-lethal cargo to coalition forces operating in Afghanistan. The command ships food, fuel, building materials and other supplies from Europe and Central Asia,” he said.

McNabb said that Transcom’s 136,000 men and women, civilian and military, private and public, are the true treasures to the nation. “Transcom logisticians work long hours, often in dangerous conditions,” McNabb said.

The General said that aircrews fly night-vision approaches to unimproved airfields or airdrop supplies to troops in Afghanistan. “Air refuellers deliver 5 million pounds of fuel flying every day and night, in the weather, extending the reach of our joint force and coalition partners,” he said.

On the sea, merchant mariners and military and civilian port operators load and operate 35 ships every day in support of war fighters. Terminal operators move thousands of containers, domestic freight and rail shipments throughout the world, he added.

McNabb thanked the senators for providing the command with the equipment needed to maintain the logistics carriers. He pointed to the large medium speed, roll-on, roll-off ships and upgrades to the ready reserve fleet that were key to the command’s success over the past seven years. “The new joint high-speed vessels will give us even greater flexibility,” he said.

The performance of the C-130J and C-17 air lifters too came in for praise. “The airframes have come of age since 9/11 and have allowed us to change how we support the combatant commanders by air,” McNabb said, adding that the current C-5, C-130 and KC-10 modernisation programmes will make an enormous difference in the capability and reliability.

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