Air Force acquisition chief outlines new approach for more survivable, better networked next-gen tankers
AURORA, Colo. — The Air Force’s new Next Generation Air-refueling System (NGAS) program is designed to ensure that future tankers will be able to survive and thrive in the most contested warfare environments, according to the service’s acquisition executive Andrew Hunter.
Upon reaching the determination that the “kind of KC-X, -Y, -Z strategy that was established in the 2009-2010 timeframe” will no longer be fit to fulfill the needs of the U.S. military in 2030 and beyond, Hunter said the service is now creating NGAS to be a more connected and defendable tanker approach for ultramodern, high-intensity conflicts moving forward.
This revamp was first mentioned in a request for information earlier this year, but during a media briefing at the annual AFA Warfare Symposium on Monday, Hunter shared more details on what’s unfolding, and confirmed that the Air Force is initiating an analysis of alternatives for the NGAS program that will take 18 months to “a couple of years” to complete.
“This tanker approach is very consistent with what I think you’ll see as an overall approach to accelerating modernization” moving forward, he said.
Compared to what was originally conceptualized via the KC-X, -Y, -Z acquisition strategy for a series of future tankers, the technologies envisioned to be associated with NGAS will likely have more self-protection and networking features — and will also have the “ability to go deeper into contested airspace,” Hunter said.
Though the Air Force RFI suggested the next-gen platform may not reach initial operational capability until 2040, Hunter said a key difference between NGAS and the previous pursuit is that the new vision offers a more accelerated delivery timeline for higher-level capabilities.
Potential industry partners that have the capacity to support NGAS aims — and lawmakers who must sign off on the switch — are already being engaged.
“Congress will have to give us funds for, or approve it as a new start, before we can go too far down the road,” Hunter said.