Lockheed, Airbus Would Build LMXT In Alabama, Georgia
Lockheed Martin’s entrant in the U.S. Air Force’s KC-Y “bridge tanker” program would be assembled in Mobile, Alabama, and missionized in Marietta, Georgia, should it win the award, and the company expects requirements to be outlined in a draft request for proposals (RFP) this year.
The LMXT, a modified Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), would take shape with the airframe assembled at the Airbus Mobile manufacturing facility. The airframe then would be converted into a tanker, with the addition of the refueling system and other military specifications, at Lockheed’s Marietta facility, where the company built the C-5 Galaxy.
The plan is contingent on Lockheed winning the KC-Y award, and Larry Gallogly, the company’s director of the LMXT program, said he expects a contract award in late 2024 or early 2025. Lockheed estimates the draft RFP will arrive this year and a final RFP in March 2023.
Based on ongoing conversations with the Air Force, Gallogly said he expects requirements for KC-Y to be a change from the KC-X program, which Boeing won with the KC-46.
“Those requirements were created some time ago in a very different geopolitical environment, and because of that I expect that there will be some fairly significant changes to those requirements,” Gallogly said.
Specifically, Lockheed points to the LMXT’s increased ability to offload more fuel at range compared to the smaller KC-46. The Pentagon’s increased shift to the Pacific requires more gas to be passed to receivers at longer ranges, and the LMXT has 10,000 nm of unrefueled range.
Lockheed has repeatedly pointed at the LMXT’s larger fuel capacity, 28% more than the KC-46, as key to winning the award. But Boeing points to the KC-46’s smaller size as a benefit because it can operate out of smaller airfields in dispersed operations.
Gallogly also said the LMXT’s “suite” of operating stations designed to support the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) are important to winning the service’s approval. The LMXT is designed to be “a far more robust communications node, because these aircraft are going to be persistent in that environment.”
The announcement of the assembly and conversion sites was largely expected, with Mobile already producing Airbus A320 airframes and Marietta serving as Lockheed’s primary site for large aircraft work. The company would expect to bring in 1,300 new jobs at the two sites, not including supply chain support, Gallogly said.
Because the Air Force wants tankers right away as part of the KC-Y program, Lockheed and Airbus have a “transition plan” of aircraft first being produced at the main Airbus facility in Toulouse, France; conversion at the Getafe facility near Madrid, Spain; and U.S.-specific military subsystems, such as the ABMS suites and defensive systems, in the U.S. American Airbus and Lockheed employees would train alongside their French and Spanish counterparts before starting in Alabama and Georgia.
The Airbus facility in Mobile already is running at capacity, so a new building would need to be constructed for the LMXT. The Marietta facility has existing space, which would need to be retooled for the tanker, Gallogly said.
Lockheed wants as much of the aircraft as possible to be built in the U.S., despite the existing MRTT supply chain. This includes the engine, and Lockheed has not yet decided if the tanker would be powered by the GE Aviation CF6 or the Rolls-Royce Trent 700.
“It’s important to us that this be built in America by Americans for Americans,” Gallogly said. “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.”