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September 15, 2009—Air Mobility Command’s Gen. Arthur Lichte told reporters Tuesday that AMC analysts, operators, and other members of the tanker community have been refining the requirements for the upcoming reboot of the KC-X competition—giving a hard look at all aspects of the program and seeing what is actually needed on a new platform.

“I think they will stand up,” Lichte said of the new requirements, which are expected to be released in a new request for proposals soon.

The cost of not getting it right this time is incredibly high, he warned, and getting higher with each passing year.

Every year of delay to the KC-X program costs approximately $55 million, according to AMC analysts, Lichte said. That is the cost of increased maintenance and time on the ground needed to keep older aircraft running longer.

Once 2018 rolls around, that cost will skyrocket as the Air Force will have to look at re-skinning and rewiring some of the existing KC-135 fleet—an expensive proposition that could drive sustainment costs for the legacy tanker fleet into the neighborhood of about $6 billion a year.

With about 12 to 15 new airframes a year as the anticipated delivery rate for the KC-X airframe, it will still take quite a while to get to the 520 to 645 tankers required.

While the KC-135 fleet is performing admirably now, Lichte said, he’s not sure how it will look a decade or more down the road.

“I don’t know how they’re going to be in 15 to 20 years,” he said, noting that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to fly 50-year-old airplanes into combat, much less 80-year-old ones—the projected age for the last of the KC-135s to retire.