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Air Force exploring options for next batch of midair refueling tankers

Credit: REUTERS/HANDOUT

The U.S. Air Force said on Wednesday it is surveying the aircraft industry to learn if another manufacturer has the capacity or interest to make the next tranche of midair refueling tankers similar to the recently purchased KC-46.

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force said on Wednesday it is surveying the aircraft industry to learn if another manufacturer has the capacity or interest to make the next tranche of midair refueling tankers similar to the recently purchased KC-46.

The Air Force's newest refueling tankers, the KC-46 Pegasus made by Boeing Co BA.N, have been plagued by performance challenges including defects with an on-board video system and the boom that connects the tanker to aircraft seeking refueling.

Despite the challenges the KC-46 aircraft faces, during Congressional testimony on Wednesday the Acting Secretary of the Air Force, John Roth said, "at this point we don't see the economic or business sense of recompeting the contract."

Mike Hafer, Boeing's lead for sales for the KC-46, said the company is ready for the competition for the next tranche.

"We are proud of the KC-46 and it's accomplishments," he said. "Boeing is poised to provide advanced capabilities going forward. There in no other refueling tanker in the world that meets the Air Force's requirements."

The Air Force's survey is the first step in the process of buying the next batch of refueling tankers. The Air Force said the tranche of 140 to 160 jets would follow Boeing's current contract to produce 179 KC-46's as the Pentagon replaces hundreds of Eisenhower-era KC-135's still in service.

Wednesday's "sources sought" document was released as part of its market research, the Air Force said.

The Air Force has sought to replace its tankers in three lots. Wednesday's "sources sought" announcement is the beginning of the formal process to buy the second batch.

The Air Force hopes to "determine if there exists an adequate number of qualified interested contractors capable of providing solutions to meet the requirement."

(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington Editing by Bill Berkrot)

((mike.stone1@thomsonreuters.com; https://twitter.com/MichaelStone;))

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