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.

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