Northrop unveils vision for future US Air Force tanker aircraft

In recent months, the US Air Force has presented several works about the future of its combat fleet like its future tanker aircraft. These are the NGAD 6th generation fighter program to replace the F-22 in air superiority missions, Loyal Wingman combat drones that will accompany the aircraft as well as some F-35As, as well as necessary changes to its fleet of support aircraft, going early warning aircraft to air-to-air refuellers.

In this last area, apparently, the USAF has moreover taken the lead in the necessary evolution in the making, by canceling the KCy open program for commander only 75 KC-46A tanker aircraft from the KCx program, and not 150 as planned, so as to free up credits and means for the future tanker aircraft which will be acquired by the KCz program.

Unlike the KC-46A or its European equivalent, the A330 MRTT, the KCz program aims to develop an aircraft capable of operating in a highly contested environment, while the air war in Ukraine has shown that the threat posed by the fighter-interceptor and long-range air-to-air missile couple was sensitive and even more effective than anticipatede.

The future tanker aircraft of the US Air Force will be very different from the KC-56A

Several avenues are being considered to meet this constraint, such as the use of intermediate tanker drones which, like the Loyal Wingman for combat aircraft, would allow the tankers to operate at a safe distance while the drones would bring the fuel combat aircraft and drones as close as possible to the engagement zone.


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