Lockheed-Martin will no longer support Airbus' A330 MRTT in the United States

The American Lockheed-Martin has just announced that it is withdrawing from the KC-Y competition and, consequently, that it is ending its collaboration with the European Airbus in the KC-Y competition, for concentrate its efforts and resources on the KC-Z program and the NGAS program.

In the early 2000s, the US Air Force launched a major competition to replace the aircraft in its tanker aircraft fleet. While there was, across the Atlantic, only one aircraft manufacturer capable of meeting its needs, Boeing, the Pentagon decided to open the competition to foreign, but allied, aircraft manufacturers.

What the American decision-makers had not imagined was that the European EADS, associated for the occasion with Northrop Grumman, would be able to offer an aircraft significantly superior to that of Boeing.

The saga of the US Air Force KC-X program

This is how in 2008, the A330 MRTT, EADS was declared the winner of the KC-X competition, covering the first 179 aircraft out of the approximately 450 to 500 that the Air Force must acquire to modernize its fleet, ruling out the Boeing KC-46A.

Even though the European aircraft manufacturer and its American industrial partner had given all the guarantees in terms of employment and local manufacturing for its aircraft, this decision caused a shock wave from the Pentagon to the Capitol, and all the way to the White House. . There was, in fact, no question of a European aircraft manufacturer supplanting the flagship of American aircraft manufacturers in one of its preferred areas, even less so for the USAF.

Boeing KC-46A KC-X Program
Winner of the KC-X program, Boeing's KC-46A encountered numerous development difficulties

The decision was therefore rejected, and a new competition was ordered, this time without the support of Northrop Grumman for the European aircraft manufacturer, and obvious bias to favor Boeing's KC-46A.

Note that in itself, there is nothing surprising in favoring your own national production, rather than an imported solution. Thus, we cannot imagine, in France, that the Air Force or the Navy would decide to turn to the F-35A or the F-35C instead of the Rafale.

However, Paris does not go through biased competitions to give, in this case, the image of an open procedure, and thus be likely to impose the same methods on its partners.

In any case, the execution of the KC-x program was very laborious for Boeing, its KC-46A encountering many difficulties in achieving the promised performance. The American aircraft manufacturer even had to absorb colossal losses on several occasions to stay in the race.

Lockheed-Martin and Airbus rely on A330 MRTT tanker aircraft for KC-Y program

The KC-y program, the second part following the KC-X program, involving 150 aircraft, was launched in 2021. Once again, Boeing's KC-46A Pegasus finds itself confronted with Airbus' A330 MRTT, for the occasion associated with Lockheed-Martin within the LMXT program.

Following the numerous difficulties encountered by the Boeing aircraft as part of KC-X, things were not looking good for the American aircraft manufacturer. Especially since, at the same time, the European A330 MRTT proved to be very efficient and very appreciated by the approximately 14 air forces using it.

LMXT Lockheed-Martin Airbus A330 MRTT
Artist's impression of the LMXT

But in March 2023, there was a twist. The USAF announced that it would reduce KC-Y to only 75 aircraft, and that it favored, with this in mind, a direct negotiation with Boeing for a new order, rather than going through a cumbersome, long and costly competition.


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