Issues Concerning Air Force KC-10A Advanced Tanker/Cargo Aircraft

PSAD-79-8: Published: Jan 5, 1979. Publicly Released: Jan 5, 1979.

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The Air Force plans to buy 20 McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 convertible freighter aircraft, designated the KC-10A, at an estimated program cost of $1.055 billion, with options to buy up to 60 aircraft. The primary mission of the KC-10A is to provide improved mobility by: (1) permitting strategic aircraft to fly from U.S. bases to most parts of the world with large payloads, lessening the need to refuel en route; (2) supporting long-range deployment of tactical fighters by simultaneously providing in- flight refueling and cargo airlift; and (3) augmenting airlift forces by carrying palletized cargo and bulk fuel between major aerial ports. The Air Force has also approved programs modifying the current KC-135 tanker to extend its service life and improve its performance at a cost that could be as high as $12 million per aircraft. The most expensive modification being considered is replacing the engine. However, the Air Force has not evaluated the relative cost effectiveness of various alternatives to fulfill total aerial refueling requirements, which GAO feels needs comprehensive study.

The Air Force has not yet evaluated the relative cost effectiveness of mixes of various aircraft for meeting aerial refueling requirements. GAO's analysis indicates that procurement of additional KC-10As may be more cost effective than modification of 15- to 20-year-old KC-135s. The contractor provides logistic support for the KC-10A fleet 24 hours a day under its Air Force contract. This concept assumes that a small fleet of advanced tankers will be procured. Should studies show that a greater number is needed, logistics support by the contractor may not be advantageous. The Air Force's current plan does not take advantage of the lowest price available under the contract, and will result in an additional cost of $1,780,000 per aircraft. A new boom will enhance the performance of the KC-10A in refueling.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should: (1) evaluate all alternatives (KC-135, KC-135 modified, and KC-10A, along with any other potential alternatives) and determine the most cost effective aircraft or mix of aircraft to fulfill Air Force requirements for aerial refueling; and (2) establish a phased schedule for fulfilling the requirements in the most economical manner. The Secretary should also determine at what number of KC-10As, if any, it becomes more cost effective for the Air Force to develop a logistics support system rather than contract for the system. The Secretary should expeditiously decide where the KC-10As will be based so that if facilities are needed, construction can begin as soon as possible to have the facilities available when the first aircraft is delivered. In addition, the Secretary should consider the impact on KC-10A unit prices when developing future year procurement quantities and funding.

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