Lockheed Martin [LMT] is offering its “LMXT” design for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-Y tanker competition, the company said on Sept. 17.

“The LMXT represents the newest chapter in Lockheed Martin’s 60+ year history of producing and delivering tanker and cargo aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and multiple operators around the world,” per Lockheed Martin. “The LMXT complements the U.S. Air Force’s tanker capabilities by providing the most advanced aerial refueler to meet America’s immediate and long-term mission requirements. The LMXT strengthens and expands the U.S. aerospace industrial base by working with existing and new American suppliers. The LMXT also cultivates and sustains high-tech, high-skill American manufacturing jobs.”

As the Air Force works to resolve the remaining Category 1 deficiencies on its Boeing [BA] KC-46A tankers, the service is preparing to move forward on the KC-Y, a commercial “bridge tanker” to fill the gap between the final delivery of the 179th KC-46A tanker in 2029 and the future KC-Z tanker (Defense Daily, July 21).

The “bridge tanker” would supplement the KC-46s and the remaining Boeing KC-135s, as the service develops the next-generation KC-Z.

The Air Force has said it will seek bids from companies that are able to build 140-160 Commercial Derivative Tanker Aircraft to supplement the Air Force tanker aircraft fleet at the end of KC-46 production to bridge the gap to the KC-Z tanker, per a July 19 Request for Information business notice.

“The Commercial Derivative Aircraft must be operational by 2030,” the notice said.

Lockheed Martin said on Sept. 17 that the LMXT will have significantly improved range and fuel offload capacity, an open systems architecture for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), a multi-domain operations node that provides resilient communications and data links for other platforms, and “the world’s first fully automatic boom/air-to-air refueling (A3R) system.”

The LMXT “builds on the combat-proven design of the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT),” Lockheed Martin said. “As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin works directly to implement U.S. Air Force-specific requirements within the LMXT. As the strategic tanker of choice for 13 nations, the MRTT has logged more than 250,000 flight hours refueling U.S. and allied fighter, transport and maritime patrol aircraft in combat theater environments.

The Air Force may have to move to a “bridge tanker” sooner than 2030, if the delivery of 179 mission capable KC-46s slips past 2029.

Last October, Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, the chief of Air Mobility Command, said that the service’s tanker fleet in 2029 would consist of 179 KC-46As and 300 remaining KC-135s, if the service meets its fielding plan for KC-46s by that date (Defense Daily, Nov. 4, 2020).

Van Ovost has said that the Air Force has been looking at a number of options for KC-Z, including stealth, large size, autonomy, and piloted.

Lockheed Martin, for its part, has broached the idea of a stealthy, autonomous tanker.