U.S. Air Force desires surreptitious, Laser-Shooting Next-Gen Tanker

As Russia and China develop subtle weapons that may shoot down U.S. craft from farther away, Air Force leaders worry that their aerial provision tankers, the backbone of the joint force, area unit liable to attack.

Gen. Carlton Everhart II, chief of Air quality Command (AMC), is concerned the way to solve this drawback on a daily basis. AMC is embarking on a replacement examine the art of the doable for the next-generation tanker fleet, typically remarked as “KC-Z,” he tells Aviation Week. That future KC-Z might look terribly totally different from the large-bodied, commercially derived tankers of today: they may be surreptitious, carry missile-shooting lasers, or perhaps fly autonomously.

“What is on the cusp of groundbreaking technologies? that’s what we would like thereon plane,” Everhart aforesaid Sept. twenty at the Air Force Association’s annual air and area conference. “Is it stealthy? I don’t apprehend. Is it large? I don’t apprehend. Is it medium, is it tiny, what’s the combat offload?”
The Air Force has spent the last fifteen years in operation within the permissive skies over Iraq and Asian country, with no real want for radar-evading, armed tankers, he says. however adversaries like Russia and China area unit developing subtle surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft weapons designed to foil U.S. forces’ ability to penetrate, departure the Pentagon troubled to tackle the new anti-access, area-denied surroundings.

A stealthy, armed tanker may be a part of the answer, Everhart says. The tankers of the 2030s and ’40s can be considered a lot of survivable as a result of they will accompany consecutive generation of fighters and bombers into this new track. In alternative words, a nonstealthy tanker may expose the position of the stealthiest fighter jet.
“Now that you just have gotten near-peer adversaries UN agency have totally different technologies,” Everhart says, “and they need to be studied the means we tend to fight, that’s commencing to amendment our calculus of however we’d execute the consecutive war.”

The Air Force hosted Associate in Nursing business day on the next-generation tanker thought and can continue discussions with business so as to solicit the simplest ideas, he says. The KC-Z study is anticipated to start up in regarding six months and to last a few years.
The general hopes to talk with major business players regarding applying low-observable coatings, employing a homogenized, hybrid or flying-wing style to scale back the tanker’s microwave radar cross-section, or perhaps equipping the craft with lasers to defeat incoming missiles. AMC is receptive Associate in Nursing autonomous or remotely piloted tanker similarly, he says.

For a surreptitious next-generation tanker, the Air Force might draw on the Air Force analysis Laboratory’s (AFRL)Speed Agile thought demonstration, a decade-long cooperative effort by authority, NASA, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin to develop technology for a surreptitious, short-takeoff-and-landing airlifter. Boeing and Lockheed’s Speed Agile styles featured surreptitious shaping and embedded engines. although Speed Agile began in 2002 to satisfy Air Force necessities for Associate in Nursing economical, survivable airlifted able to deliver hundreds on to the track, the program resulted in 2012 while not transitioning to a development program.

The Air Force may additionally be viewing Lockheed’s Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) and Boeing’s homogenized Wing Body (BWB) ideas for a lot of fuel-efficient next-generation airlifter. The HWB combines a homogenized wing and forebody for mechanics and structural potency with a standard aft body and tail; BWB could be a triangular, acaudal style that merges the vehicle’s wing and body. Neither thought is specifically designed for stealth—features like embedded engines Associate in Nursing aligned edges don’t seem to be apparent—but such a frame would definitely be stealthier than today’s transport and tanker craft and will later be changed to scale back the microwave radar cross-section.

The Air Force’s long-stated strategy for replacing its aging KC-10s and KC-135s begins with shopping for 179 Boeing KC-46A Pegasus craft, with delivery starting in August 2017. The service had planned to pursue a KC-Y acquisition beginning in 2024, followed by a KC-Z in 2036. However, Everhart says they’re currently wondering leapfrogging KC-Y for a next-generation KC-Z. as an alternative, KC-Y may simply be a progressive KC-46—a KC-46B, per se.

The KC-Z would possibly return online within the 2030-40 timeframe, he says—after the bow wave of modernization presently facing the Air Force has passed.

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