Lockheed Martin, in a press release, announced that GE Aerospace has been chosen as the engine manufacturer for its proposed LMXT strategic tanker aircraft, a major portion of which is projected to be built at the Lockheed Martin Marietta plant.
Tankers perform aerial refueling, or the transfer of fuel from one aircraft to another while in flight.
The engine chosen by Lockheed Martin for the project is the CF6-80E1 propulsion system.
“America’s tanker fleet will play a critical role in meeting future mission requirements. This means the LMXT must use capable and proven technologies, such as the MRTT strategic tanker and GE Aerospace’s CF6 engine,” said Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in the press release. “This partnership with GE further demonstrates how the LMXT will strengthen and diversify the critical U.S. tanker industrial base.”
Lockheed Martin had previously announced a workflow for the project that included initial production of the aircraft as an Airbus A330 in Alabama, configuration into the LMXT at the Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, with the refueling boom system manufactured in Arkansas.
“I join thousands of Airbus employees across the U.S. in welcoming GE to the great American team that will build the LMXT for our Air Force,” said C. Jeffrey Knittel, chairman and CEO, Airbus Americas. “The A330 MRTT has been refueling U.S. aircraft in combat since 2015, and I look forward to seeing a GE-powered LMXT step into that role, providing a level of capability that U.S. forces have clearly shown they need.”
“The LMXT strategic tanker is the optimal aircraft for GE’s CF6-80E1 engine. Developed exclusively for the A330, the unmatched CF6 engine offers a combination of outstanding reliability, durability, and time on wing, all of which are critical requirements for a military tanker,” said Amy Gowder, president and CEO, GE Aerospace’s Defense & Systems business. “GE Aerospace is proud to join longtime partners Lockheed Martin and Airbus on the LMXT.”
The project is not a done deal
But statements early last year by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall cast doubts that the competition for a new tanker system for the Air Force would 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.”
At the time Kendall gave that testimony the assumption was that the Air Force would continue buying the Boeing KC-46, the tanker the Air Force has been buying since 2011.
But National Defense Magazine reported in March that the Air Force is reconsidering its plan to continue with the KC-46, and is considering a “next-generation aerial refueling model.”
How that plays out depends on decisions in Congress, according to the National Defense Magazine article.