The U.S. Air Force now has 57 new, high tech refueling tankers with more in the proverbial pipeline to replace its aging fleet of Eisenhower-era tankers. While tankers don’t generally capture the headlines, without a capable tanker to do mid-air refueling, the reach of our military’s bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance planes are cut dramatically. Simply put, tankers allow America’s warfighters to stay in the air and on target longer and without making extra trips back to the home base to refuel. And the KC-46 is operating right now refueling military aircraft over Poland and Germany that are protecting NATO as war wages nearby in Ukraine. The modernized KC-46 tankers are the most capable on the planet, and are more fuel efficient and can deliver fuel to every single aircraft in our arsenal. That means they are better for the taxpayer, the environment, and the warfighter.
Our nation’s military leaders estimate that we will need about 480 tankers to entirely replace America’s aging fleet and meet our defensive needs. As with all military equipment, many years or even decades from now, we will likely replace the KC-46 tanker, just as we are now doing. However, for the fights of today and the generation to come, the KC-46 is the world’s most capable and robust tanker. It’s also cost-effective at a time when budgets are being spread thin.
Given what has happened in recent years, it is clear that we have a lot of pressing national security budgetary needs. We will need to expand our missile defense and deterrence capabilities and make sure we have the tools to deter Chinese and Russian aggression as well as deter rogue states like North Korea and Iran. In times like these, we can’t afford to waste billions of dollars to buy a less advanced foreign tanker, let alone the years of development and testing it will take to upgrade it to the capability of an aircraft we already own. Doing that would simply divert money from other pressing needs which would have the impact of endangering our nation — not protecting it.
Development of military hardware is an expensive and time consuming process. And adding a whole host of changes and upgrades to bring a foreign tanker up to U.S. military standards would be a major development program with all the same risks of the unknown and the unproven. If the Pentagon starts down that path on another tanker today, it likely won’t roll off the assembly line for close to a decade. By that time, the Air Force will be looking to next generation tankers that are unmanned, stealthy, and able to fly places a wide body aircraft never will. In the meantime, if the Pentagon wants new technology or capability built into the new KC-46, that can easily be done. l
Some Pentagon officials want to pursue a relationship with Airbus. That would be a mistake. Even as Russia wages war against Ukraine, threatens expanded war against the Western world, and even threatens nuclear escalation, Airbus continues to buy titanium from Russia. In contrast, U.S.-based Boeing has announced that it is ceasing Russian titanium buys.
But that’s not the only reason the U.S. should be wary of entering into business with Airbus. The company has a long history of scandal and corruption. In the United Kingdom, for example, investigations have exposed massive bribery scandals. French investigations have also uncovered evidence of corruption. Additionally, Airbus has paid billions in fines because it has engaged in bribery schemes around the globe.
Moreover, Airbus has cost Americans thousands of high-paying aerospace jobs by violating trade laws and trade agreements. It doesn’t make sense defensively or economically to outsource our high tech capabilities and make our nation more dependent upon unreliable and untrustworthy trading partners.
“Buy American” is a mantra being repeated far and wide by the White House and others, from newsrooms to manufacturers. It’s merits can be debated, but the reality is that it makes no sense at all to choose to make ourselves dependent upon other nations for the things we absolutely must have to survive in a dangerous world. For example, missile defense technology and national security technology must be 100% American.
The KC-46 tanker is the most capable in the world. It is new and in the coming years if it needs updates, it can be achieved at a minimal cost. There is simply no real benefit to our war fighters, our taxpayers, or our nation to start developing a foreign tanker, especially given the current global environment.
The U.S. has a lot of work to do in other areas of national security to ensure that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran pose no serious danger to our nation. When you consider all the facts, it becomes clear we need a new tanker built by Airbus like we need a gasoline powered turtleneck sweater.