Lockheed and Airbus Say They Would Build New Air Force Tankers in Alabama and Georgia
Team takes aim at service’s “bridge tanker” contract against likely rival Boeing.
Lockheed Martin and Airbus will build military tankers in Alabama and Georgia if the U.S. Air Force choses its aircraft over one proposed by rival Boeing, the companies announced Monday.
Executives and politicians are scheduled to announce the decision during ceremonies in Mobile, Alabama, where Airbus currently builds commercial jetliners, and Marietta, Georgia, later today.
The companies plan to assemble the aircraft in Mobile before flying it to a Lockheed factory in Marietta, Georgia, where workers would install special military refueling and electronic equipment.
The work would create a total of 1,300 jobs in Mobile and Marietta, Larry Gallogly, Lockheed’s project head, said during a virtual press conference this morning. Airbus would need to expand its factory in Mobile to accommodate widebody production, but Lockheed would use existing hangers previously used to work on the mammoth C-5 cargo plane.
Lockheed and Airbus have branded the new tanker as the LMXT. It would be a new version of Airbus’ Multi Role Tanker Transport, or MRTT, an A330-based tanker built in France and Spain and flown by 14 international militaries.
The new version being pitched to the Air Force will carry more fuel and have new special communications equipment, but will use the same boom and refueling system currently used certified for U.S. aircraft, Gallogly said.
“It's important to us that this be built in America by Americans for Americans. So we're trying to source as much of the supply chain in the United States as we possibly can, recognizing and respecting that there's a very successful existing supply chain that supports the MRTT right now,” Gallogly said.
The Air Force plans to buy up to 160 new tankers over the next decade, reigniting a longtime battle between commercial aircraft makers Airbus and Boeing. Boeing has an Air Force contract to build up to 179 KC-46 tankers, which are converted 767 airliners. But the company has struggled with design and quality-control setbacks, leading to delays and $5.4 billion in losses.
Lockheed is the latest large defense company to try to put U.S. branding on the Airbus A330. Northrop Grumman partnered with the European aerospace and defense behemoth during a competition in the mid-2000s. The Air Force selected its bid, but the decision was overturned by government auditors. Airbus bid on its own during a recompete, but the Air Force chose Boeing’s KC-46. Boeing has said it will enter a bid in the new competition, but has not said what aircraft it will pitch.