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​The Air Force has to break the mold of building new things that replicate the function of old things, and exploit new technologies and new thinking, said Gen. Darren McDew, Air Mobility Command boss, Sept. 16, 2014. Staff photo by Kristina L. Parrill

The Air Force has to break out of the mold of building new things that replicate the function of old things, and take advantage of new technologies and new thinking, said Gen. Darren McDew, head of Air Mobility Command, on Sept. 16. It's not too early to think about the KC-Y and KC-Z tankers, which will follow the KC-X, which is the KC-46 platform that Boeing is now building, he said in his speech to AFA’s Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. "If we're only looking at a newer KC-46, we aren't looking hard enough," said McDew. The KC-Y and -Z will come along in the late 2020s or later, and it's necessary to think now about whether these tankers could be unmanned, autonomous, or semi-autonomous, he said. The KC-Z could very well be unmanned, he said, but in any case, "we can't look at new systems the way we looked at old systems." In the near term, McDew said he's "agnostic" about how the legacy C-130 fleet gets upgraded—he was poised to discuss the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program on Capitol Hill—but insisted "we cannot buy a program that does not provide all the things we need."