Embraer has teamed up with L3 Harris to launch an “Agile Tanker” project based on the KC-390 multi-role jet that will be offered to the US Air Force (USAF).
To this end, the two manufacturers will develop a variant of the aircraft equipped with an in-flight refueling boom, the system used by the USAF.
“U.S. Air Force strategic planners have stated agile combat employment will require optimized refueling platforms to support a disaggregated approach to air dominance in contested logistics environments,” said Christopher E. Kubasik, CEO of L3Harris.
“Collaborating with Embraer to develop and integrate new capabilities to the multi-mission KC-390 provides a cost-effective, fast-to-field solution that embodies our trusted disruptor approach.”
“We continue seeking meaningful and strategic partnerships that generate new developments and expand the KC-390 Millennium’s market reach,” said Francisco Gomes Neto, President and CEO of Embraer.
The project also includes advanced mission and communication systems, within the JADC2 (Joint All-Domain Command and Control) requirements, which aims to modernize and streamline the decisions of the US military in contested environments.
Among the project’s proposals are the production of the aircraft in the United States in order to comply with the “Buy American Act” legislation. The KC-390s would then be retrofitted at L3Harris’ facilities in Waco, Texas.
The US Air Force currently has no competition for a smaller tactical tanker. Instead, there is another program, the KC-Y, which aims to acquire long-range refueling planes as a complement to the KC-46A being delivered by Boeing.
For the future, the USAF should launch another competition, the KC-Z, which will give rise to an advanced tanker and which has a high chance of being an unmanned aircraft.
The solution of the Embraer-L3 Harris partnership, however, is a cheap and fast alternative to having an aircraft capable of operating on unprepared runways, something that the fleet of KC-135, KC-10 and KC-46 cannot.
Current Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall enumerated seven operational imperatives in March that are intended to serve as a benchmark for a short-term USAF modernization and capacity building process.