Aerial Refueling Initiative:

Cross-Service Analysis Needed To Determine Best Approach

NSIAD-93-186: Published: Jul 19, 1993. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the performance of the air refueling tanker force during Operation Desert Storm.

GAO found that: (1) in late 1990, the Air Force initiated a tactical air refueling standardization package; (2) the cost to modify 3,000 F-15 and F-16 fighters and 250 tankers could be offset by the retirement of 26 KC-135 tankers; (3) the tactical air refueling initiative is intended to increase efficiency, effectiveness, interoperability, and safety during multiservice air operations; (4) the Air Force has significantly downsized and restructured the refueling initiative; (5) the assumptions used in an air staff multipoint utility study were not well founded and understated the benefits of twin off-load points; (6) the technical and operational concerns about retrofitting fighters with probes have been exaggerated; (7) the Air Force is satisfied with its refueling system and is unwilling to commit its resources to a different refueling system; (8) Desert Storm air refueling operations confirmed the advantages of multipoint refueling and pointed out additional benefits during air space-constrained operations; (9) retrofitting 15 KC-10 aircraft with twin off-load points may not be cost-effective if the Air Force does not add probes to its fighter aircraft; and (10) the Air Force is proposing to address Navy air refueling requirements by adding multipoint refueling capabilities to 75 KC-135 tankers.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Report of the House Committee on Appropriations on the 1994 DOD Appropriations Bill recognized GAO's aerial refueling report and noted that GAO said that DOD had not adequately assessed the proposed aerial refueling initiative. As GAO had suggested, the committee recommended that the Secretary of Defense fully assess the aerial refueling initiative from a cross-service perspective, and that this assessment include interoperability, safety, reliability, fuel off-load rates, and trade-offs betwen internal and external probes. The conferees reduced the DOD budget request in this area and directed that none of these funds be obligated until the Secretary of the Air Force made certain certifications including providing funding to complete the assessment GAO recommended in its report.

    Matter: Congress may wish to monitor the Department of Defense's (DOD) written response required by 31 U.S.C. 720 to the recommendations in the report. If the Department, in its response, is reluctant to fully reassess the initiative, Congress may wish to direct the Secretary of Defense to undertake the reassessment.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed that further study of aerial refueling requirements was needed, including an assessment of the number of multipoint tankers to meet joint service requirements. DOD did not agree that a separate new assessment was needed to determine if aerial refueling probes should be added to all Air Force fighters. However, as a result of the recommendation, DOD initiated an aerial refueling assessment during fiscal year 1995 that, to a limited extent, reconsidered the issue of adding probes to Air Force fighters. The study was not as comprehensive as GAO had recommended. Nonetheless, as a result of preliminary findings, DOD initiated procurement of 33 additional modification kits for KC-135 tankers to increase Navy refueling support. OSD officials stated that some additional Navy support capability is likely to be required, but the requirement has not yet been definitized.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the capabilities of U.S. tanker and fighter forces are consistent with the different challenges of the post-cold war era and the increased emphasis on multiservice, multinational military operations, the Secretary of Defense should reassess the aerial refueling initiative from a cross-service perspective with the primary goal of determining if probes should be added to Air Force fighters and how many multipoint tankers would be required to support Air Force and naval operations. The Program Analysis and Evaluation staff may be the best suited to perform such a study because it has both this perspective and the analytic resources required. To enable a more realistic comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of increased Air Force participation in the initiative, the reassessment should include interoperability, safety/reliability, fuel off-load rates, and trade-offs between internal and external probes for Air Force fighters. The reassessment should also contain a cost analysis that considers potential tanker retirements, including Marine Corps KC-130 assets.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since the Air Force awarded the contract, the recommendation to defer award is no longer relevant.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to postpone awarding a contract to complete the KC-10 multipoint program until the reassessment of the aerial refueling initiative is completed. If the Secretary finds that the refueling initiative should be expanded by adding probes to some or all of the current and future Air Force fighter force, the Secretary should propose a roadmap to achieve the desired capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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