Airbus KC-45 (KC-30)
Aerial Refueling Tanker / Utility Transport
With Northrop Grumman out, EADS took the lead to make their Airbus product the next aerial refueling tanker for the USAF - it failed.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The KC-45 is/was a joint proposal from primary contractor Northrop Grumman of the United States and subcontractor EADS (European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company N.V.) of the Netherlands to deliver a new aerial refueling tanker aircraft to the United States Air Force (USAF). The vehicle was intended to replace and, in effect, upgrade the current fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers in service. Northrop Grumman/EADS competed successfully against a similar proposal from The Boeing Company and was awarded an initial USAF order for 179 KC-45 examples. However, Boeing openly protested the selection process and a new competition was instituted in July of 2008. The move inevitably prompted Northrop Grumman to drop out of the competition citing favoritism towards Boeing on March 8th of 2010. Despite the lack of the Northrop Grumman presence, EADS has maintained that it was moving forward its KC-45 proposal - this announced on April 20th of 2010. A per unit cost of $200 million dollars is estimated with development of the KC-45 stemming from the existing Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) series gaining steam across Europe.
In the late 1990s, the USAF expressed a need to revamp their fleet of KC-135 systems. The KC-135 had been in operation since 1957 and went on to serve the long-reaching interests of the USAF for decades since while also having been invited into the inventories of the French, Singapore and Turkish air forces. Some 803 were ultimately produced by American-based manufacturer Boeing with production ending in 1965. The KC-135 was itself developed from the existing C-135 Stratolifter cargo aircraft, this aircraft also introduced into service in 1957.
The initial response to replacing the KC-135 was to refit existing Boeing 767-200 airframes for the aerial refueling role. The 767-200 model competed successfully against a modified French designed Airbus 330 series. The intent was for the USAF to lease the 767-200 airframes directly from Boeing as opposed to direct purchase and the aircraft would have been given the military designation of "KC-767". However, in January of 2006, acting US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cancelled the KC-767 outright for budgetary concerns and elected instead to extend the KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft series for the USAF for the short term. Later that year, the USAF submitted a requirement for a new aerial refueling tanker aircraft to meet the needs of the new battlefield. The requirement created the "KC-X" program with the goal of having a product finalized by the following year. The program would be accomplished in three distinct phases culminating with the delivery of the new fleet.
In the first phase, the Northrop Grumman KC-30 had successfully competed against the Boeing KC-767, this announcement coming on February 29th, 2008 from the US DoD. Not satisfied with the results, Boeing approached the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and submitted their formal protest of the selection. On June 18th, 2008, the GAO sided with the Boeing protest and refuted the DoD selection of the Northrop Grumman product, stating that the proper avenues of evaluation were not exercised during the selection process. On July 9th, 2008, it was announced that a new competition was to be held to reconsider both options but the KC-X proposal was eventually cancelled altogether by the US DoD on September 10th, 2008. The USAF began a new aerial tanker search announcing as much in September of 2009. By March of 2010, Northrop Grumman had bowed out of the competition in protest, leaving EADS to go at it alone.
The KC-30 (proposed USAF designation of KC-45A) was to be have been crewed by three personnel made up of two pilots and a rear-set boom operator. The advanced Aerial Refueling Boom System (ARBS) can deliver 1,200 gallons per minute to awaiting aircraft. The airframe was to be powered by 2 x General Electric CF6-80E1A4B turbofan engines delivering up to 72,000lbf of thrust each. Maximum fuel capacity was in the vicinity of 245,000lbs with a listed maximum take-off weight of 507,063lbs. Maximum speed was reportedly 547 miles per hour with an operational range of some 7,770 miles and a service ceiling equal to 41,000 feet. Outward design was conventional, with a pair of low-set monoplane wings each supporting a single underslung engine. Each wing was extensively swept along the leading edge. The fuselage was conventional in shape, mimicking her Airbus 330 origins to a tee. The empennage was traditional with a low-set pair of horizontal planes and a vertical tail fin.
Had the Northrop Grumman/EADS product gone into production by way of the original DoD selection, the two firms would have spent some $600 million in construction of the needed assembly facilities in the United States. EADS has since launched a public-centered campaign in various media in support of their Airbus product, stating that the Boeing submission will cost the USAF 15% - 40% more in the long run. At least five A330 MRTTs are known to have been completed with evaluations ongoing by interested parties. At least four parties have committed to the A330 MRTT with Australia poised to become the world's first operator of the series in late 2010. The Airbus A330 MRTT has already completed its second flight for the Royal Air Force of Britain which have committed to procuring 14 examples to date with deliveries set to begin in late 2011.
UPDATE: On February 25th, 2011, the United States Department of Defense expectedly announced that the $3.5 Billion KC-X Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract had been awarded to The Boeing Company, thus ending the Airbus A330 MRTT initiative.