Janes reports that Brazil has retired its last KC-137 tanker. These aircraft are over twenty years old as tankers and even older as airframes. They date back to the 1960s.
Interestingly the Brazilian Air Force has selected to replace these tankers with converted airliners again. This time 767-300s and modified by IAI. IAI has sold a tanker to Colombia based on the 767-200.
One has wonder about the 767-300 choice since Boeing is focusing on the 767-200 for the its KC-46 program. Many people wondered if the 767-300 wasn’t the better choice as a base given its larger capacity for the multiple functions the USAF tankers perform. The Airbus MRTT is based on an even larger A330 airframe and also performs more than aerial refueling. Brazil may have selected the -300 for the same reason.
IAI has a deal for three tankers for Brazil. The IAI offering offers hose and boom options and also can be delivered on a number of platforms; 707,C-130, IL-78 and 767. IAI claims 12 customers for its tanker conversions. This is small, but when one considers how few air forces need tankers, this is a disruptive offering that Airbus and Boeing would rather not have in the market.
Offering air to air tanker services is not exclusive to state owned operations. There is business being done out of Ireland by Omega Tankers. Apparently Omega claims it can do this work at half the cost of the USAF. Omega has old airplanes which, despite refreshes by the company, will need to be replaced. Given the nature of its work, Omega would probably get a better deal using IAI than buying new from the OEMs.
The longer 767-300 needs a longer runway. That is no problem for Brazilian Air Force with most facilities close to sea level but Colombia Air Force has to cover altitudes up to 2,500 m. Airbus MRTT could even took off with a bigger fuel load from short runways than the proposed B767-C2.
The KC-X catch was to calculate the fuel burn on average for more than 7 touch & go maneuvers for each mission flown over the complete lifetime (see RFP flight profiles). The smaller Boeing burns less fuel on such missions. That an A330 MRTT could deliver twice as much pallets or passengers from the US to e.g. Kabul was of less interest…
There is major difference in US operations of Tanks and freight than the rest.
US has a dedicated freight fleet supplemental by what tanker carry into Theater as a convenience but not a necessary as US can get freight into Theater by two other routes (commercial hires as well as the Civilian Reserve Fleet activation if needed)
Australia in contrast does not have the world network and they used the larger A330MRT to fill the needs to carry squadron members and their support equipment and supplies.
When the tanker war was on it was found that 60% of the fuel comes back on a typical tanker mission, so you do not need an A330 for that.
The US does have the KC10 fleet for pure large fuel loads, based in US and in between theater but not in theater as there it is wasted.
So, what works for and needs of Brazil and Australia etc are not the same as US. Japan went with the smaller 767-200 as that is more in line with their use and needs (at least currently)
And if you do not use the fuel or the freight capacity to the maximum, you are burning up a lot of fuel carrying both excess fuel and the fuselage/wing and that factored in hugely in the tankers bid.
It also needs to be kept in mind that the numbers of world aircraft in allied fleets is misleading.
As we saw in Libya, major countries were supply 4 or 6 aircraft and there was a complete inability to supply tankers to those few that actually were committed.
What counts is numbers, not capacity. If you can only refuel two or at most 3 aircraft at a time, and you need to refuel 10 to get a strike package launched, one bit tanker means 4 rounds of fuel and an hour of idle time while the first ones wait (which means you may have to fuel part of the package again).
More smaller tankers are needed in many scenarios not a few larger ones . Thats why a KC135 or 767 works but also does not preclude the need for larger ones to refuel B52, B1, B2, C17 and C5.
Caveat is one large tanker cannot be in tow places at the same time and the need not only for a lot of orbits in an area, but across many theaters as well as combat in the Middle East does not mean that Korea is quiet.
So while other can enjoy a setup that lets them move cargo and fuel in limited areas, they also know they have the US to fall back on when they can’t supply their own orbits so they enjoy the benefits of a multi purpose tanker because they don’t have to pay the price.
The Omega team will not be going to B767 or A330 and that comment is incorrect. We have extensive knowledge of both platforms and studied the ideal tanker for the future. We disagree with IAI and USAF in the 767 selection for three reasons.
Firstly the 707 airframe is so robust in structure that it can last a 100 years without major structural issues. The 767 is an excellent passenger aircraft but will not have structural longevity. Secondly the JT8D reengined 707 aircraft burns 1420 lbs per hour v 1960 lbs per hour for the 767. The 707 has the same fuel offload and burns 25% less fuel to deliver it. Indeed Omega tried to persuade USAF to re manufacture the KC-135 as we know it will last 80+ years and do an excellent job like it has for the last 60 years. Keep the mission simple,the warfighter only wants to get gas and doesn’t care how sophisticated or not the tanker is as long as it has fuel for him. De-risking a procurement program would mean the USAF would have a new KC-135 that lasts 80 years for 30/40% of the cost of the KC-46 program. Maybe next time we will rebuild KC-135.