Lockheed Martin moves ahead with LMXT tanker plans, but Air Force signals competition less likely

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Lockheed Martin, in a press release, gave further details on the production workflow for their proposed LMXT strategic tanker aircraft, a major portion of which is projected to take place at the Lockheed Martin Marietta plant.

But recent statements by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall cast doubts that the competition will take place.

Kendall, during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, quoted in breakingdefense.com, said, “I love competition. I’m all for it. It’s the best tool (we)have to reduce costs. But we actually have to have a demand for the other aircraft that’s being offered.”

“And I’m trying to be as transparent and honest about this as I can be. It is not as certain as it was a year ago, let’s say, that we’re going to do a competition,” he said. “And I don’t want people to have a mis-impression about that. [But] we have not made a final decision yet.”

If the competition is skipped, the Air Force will continue buying the Boeing KC-46, the tanker the Air Force has been buying since 2011.

The press release from Lockheed Martin was largely focused on the decision to manufacture the refueling boom for their proposed aircraft by Airbus in western Arkansas.

But the release also gave this projected outline of the process for building the craft:

  • Phase 1: The LMXT is first produced as an A330 airliner at Airbus’ Mobile, Alabama, facility, which is where Airbus A320 and A220 commercial airliners are built.
  • Phase 2: The second phase of the manufacturing process includes converting the commercial aircraft into the LMXT tanker at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics’ Marietta, Georgia, facility, which is currently home to the C-130J Super Hercules final production and F-35 Lightning II center wing assembly lines.

“Given the undisputed importance of the U.S. Air Force’s strategic refueling mission, ensuring the LMXT is equipped with critical and relevant technologies for its refueling system is of paramount importance. Like the LMXT airframe, this refueling system is proven and low-risk, translating to known and added capabilities for the U.S. Air Force,” said Lockheed Martin Chairman, President, and CEO James Taiclet. “With this commitment, Arkansas’ manufacturing community has the opportunity to contribute to building America’s next strategic tanker.”

Lockheed Martin and Cobb County

The Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta has been a major employer in Cobb County since 1951, when the Lockheed Corporation, a predecessor of Lockheed Martin, took over the former site of the WWII Bell Bomber plant.

The C-130 program is the largest program operating at the Marietta facility. The plant currently produces the C-130J Super Hercules (see the company’s Fast Facts on the C-130J or the company’s C-30J brochure for more information).

The Marietta plant also provides ongoing support for the C-5 Galaxy, which celebrated its 50th year in operation in 2018. The C-5 Galaxy is expected to remain in service until 2045.

The Marietta location also supports the P-3 Orion, and manufactures the center wings for the F-35.