Lockheed Martin has unveiled its concept of next-generation wing-body tanker aircraft for refuel fighters like the F-22 and F-35. That was reported by Graham Warwick.
The concept of new stealth tanker aircraft was displayed for the first time at AIAA SciTech Forum. Lockheed has already begun wind-tunnel testing on a four percent scale model of a new Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) airlifter designed for maximized aerodynamic efficiency. As Lockheed’s aerospace engineers conduct flight tests on the 45-pound HWB model, they could use the data not only to develop the HWB but also to jumpstart a tanker program with a similar blended wing-body design.
The U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command recently announced the “KC-Z” program intended to develop a next-generation tanker aircraft—one that could fly into dangerous airspace to support stealth strike fighters like the F-22 and F-35—by 2035.
The Air Force has spent the last 15 years operating in the permissive skies over Iraq and Afghanistan, with no real need for radar-evading, armed tankers, he says. But adversaries such as Russia and China are developing sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft weapons designed to foil U.S. forces’ ability to penetrate, leaving the Pentagon struggling to tackle the new anti-access, area-denied environment.
A stealthy, armed tanker might be part of the solution, Everhart says. The tankers of the 2030s and ’40s will need to be significantly more survivable because they may accompany the next generation of fighters and bombers into this new battlefield. In other words, a nonstealthy tanker could give away the position of the stealthiest fighter jet.
The United States Air Force (USAF) is considering whether the new tanker should include standoff, stealth or penetrating capabilities for an anti-access area denial environment.