The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) is soliciting interest for the Bridge Tanker programme from potential companies through a Sources Sought notice.

The latest notice is aimed at determining the number of companies qualified and interested in providing solutions for the proposed ‘non-developmental tanker recapitalisation programme’.

The programme is intended to replace the KC-135 Stratotanker fleet. The new platform will bridge the capability gap offered by the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refuelling aircraft and a later tanker, previously referred to as KC-Z.

In 2011, Boeing was selected as the winner of a competition to build 179 new KC-46A aerial refuelling tankers for the USAF.

These KC-46As will replace roughly one-third of the USAF’s ageing fleet of KC-135.

Delivery of the 179 initial KC-46As is expected to take place by 2029. By that time, the last KC-135R would be more than 70 years old.

This will result in higher sustainment costs and replacing the platforms will prove critical to the service’s mission.

Thus, the USAF has committed to a continuous recapitalisation of tanker aircraft. It will buy a non-developmental ‘bridge tanker’ with a full and open acquisition competition.

It will allow the USAF to supplement the tanker aircraft fleet at the end of KC-46A production.

The Bridge Tanker commercial derivative aircraft ‘will be based on existing and emerging technologies’.

The airforce noted that it has no plans for developmental stealth or unmanned capability for the aircraft.

The final request for proposal is expected to be released by the end of 2022.