The A330-200's selection as the next-generation U.S. Air Force aerial refuelling aircraft marks a major new breakthrough for Airbus, which will significantly increase its market and industrial presence in America.
Under terms of the contract announced in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Air Force will acquire up to 179 KC-45A tankers for approximately $35 billion, replacing KC-135 aircraft that have performed the country's vital military air-to-air refuelling missions for more than 40 years. The Air Force ultimately plans to replace its entire fleet of more than 490 KC-135s.
The A330-based tanker solution was proposed in an industrial teaming led by U.S. prime contractor Northrop Grumman, which includes Airbus parent company EADS as the principal partner. Its selection culminated a multi-year U.S. Air Force competition that used a "best value" determination based on five factors: mission capability, past performance, cost/price and an integrated fleet air refuelling assessment.
As part of the industrial team's proposal, KC-45As will be built at a new final facility in the southern U.S. city of Mobile, Alabama, which also will be responsible for the assembly of Airbus' increasingly popular A330-200 Freighter aircraft. Mobile already is home to one of two Airbus engineering centres in the United States, and the new final assembly facility will represent a major expansion of the company's North American industrial footprint.
The KC-45A will be employed for the air-to-air refuelling of military aircraft, using an extendable fly-by-wire centreline boom and two digital underwing pods with deployable hoses. Benefitting from the A330's excellent range and payload capabilities, the KC-45A will be a true multi-role aircraft - capable of carrying passengers and cargo on U.S. Air Force airlift and support flights, as well as performing special mission duties.
Airbus already has completed the first SDD (system design and development) aircraft for the KC-45A programme, which made its maiden flight last September at Toulouse, France. The no. 2 SDD aircraft currently is in the build-up process at Toulouse, having entered Station 40 of the A330 final assembly line in February for the mating of its wing and centre fuselage. This advance production of A330-200s for eventual use by the U.S. Air Force was part of the industrial team's approach to ensure a low-risk solution in the tanker competition.
America's KC-45A selection marks the fourth consecutive win for A330-based aerial refuelling aircraft in international competitions. A330 MRTTs (Multi-Role Tanker Transports) have already been ordered by Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the aircraft also was selected as the United Kingdom's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft. The no. 1 A330-MRTT for Australia has completed its initial phase of flight testing as the aircraft is readied for its future delivery to the Royal Australian Air Force.
Ready for American Military Service: the U.S. Air Force Chooses the A330-based Tanker