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Air Force Leaders insist new tanker key to airpower

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The top three acquisition priorities for the Air Force are the KC-46A aerial tanker, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and the Long Range Strike Bomber, officials told members of Congress during a hearing of House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on seapower and projections forces, April 2.

"On any given day, the Air Force's mobility aircraft deliver critical personnel and cargo, and provide airdrop of time-sensitive supplies, food and ammunition on a global scale," said Dr. William LaPlante, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.

LaPlante was joined by Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements Maj. Gen. James Jones and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Tankers Maj. Gen. John Thompson.

"The KC-46 remains essential to overall strategy," Jones said. "Our air refueling fleet is critical to operations for all services, and our coalition partners."

LaPlante explained the new tanker is essential to replacing an aging tanker fleet, and ushering air mobility and sustainment into the future.

"The backbone of rapid U.S. global operations is our tanker fleet," LaPlante said. "Based on the budget submitted, we expect to see about 54 KC-46 deliveries across the Future Years Defense Plan, as part of the tanker fleet recapitalization."

The first delivery of Low Rate Initial Production aircraft will be in Fiscal Year 2016, with an estimated program completion date of 2028.

"Tankers are the lifeblood of our joint force's ability to respond to crisis and contingencies, and are essential to keeping our Air Force viable as a global force," LaPlante added.

The Air Force is also investing in the sustainment of the current bomber and cargo fleets, and will make upgrades to various systems to keep these airframes practical in the future of the force, he explained.

Overall, Air Force officials said they are optimistic about the future of the air mobility and bomber fleets, and are confident in the continued capabilities to support the warfighter.

"In the midst of the challenges ahead, we will aim to keep these programs on track and deliver these systems both as vital capabilities to our forces, but also as the best value to our taxpayer," LaPlante said. "These systems will provide the future capabilities necessary to operate effectively in the national security environment of tomorrow."

Air Force officials announced in May 2013 that the 157th Air Refueling Wing is scheduled to be the first Air National Guard KC-46A main operating base.
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