News Releases

Air Force Officials Reiterate Need for New Tankers

May 15 2002

Gen. John Jumper, Secretary James Roche appeal to Senate for new 767s

"We've never flown 60 year old planes"

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Appearing before a Senate panel today, the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force told Senators that replacing 130 Eisenhower-era tankers with 100 Boeing 767 remains a critical Air Force priority.

Gen. John Jumper, Air Force Chief of Staff, and Sec. James Roche, Air Force Secretary, testified that "operations and support costs are escalating as structural fatigue, corrosion, systems supportability, and technical obsolescence continue to take their toll" on the current 43 year-old tanker fleet.

Jumper bemoaned the time and man-hours required to keep the old tankers ready.

"In the last several years we've doubled the amount of time from about 180 days to more than 300 days it takes to take one of these [KC-135Es] aircrafts apart, fix all the corrosion and the things that are wrong with them and put them back together." Jumper added, "In the KC-135 fleet we've had flaking on the fuel tanks we've spent almost 40,000 man-hours dealing with this flaking problem."

Roche refuted the argument that the Air Force should simply continue to repaint, and re-engine the current fleet of old aircraft.

"As Sec. Rumsfield says, about keeping a 1934 Oldsmobile going - you can do it, it just costs so much money that at some point it's not wise to continue to try to keep these things going," Roche said.

Roche also threw water on Senator McCain's vision of waiting fifteen years to acquire new tankers. "The E models average 43 years. Add 15 years and you've got 60 year old planes. We've never flown 60-year-old planes."

Senator Patty Murray, one of the architects of the lease that will enable the Air Force to acquire 100 new Boeing 767s, released the following statement:

"The testimony of General Jumper and Secretary Roche further underscores the urgent Air Force need to replace outdated air tankers with modern equipment.

Corrosion, maintenance, and equipment failure all contribute to the abysmal readiness rates of the KC-135E tankers currently in the Air Force fleet.

While hot rhetoric and theatrics may help sell magazines, I defer to the judgment and the expertise of the Air Force personnel who are on the front lines of the war on terrorism.

Senators are free to argue for sending the tanker manufacturing jobs overseas, but they cannot credibly argue that the Air Force does not want or need new air tankers.

As for whether or not the lease is a good deal for taxpayers, we must withhold judgment until the Air Force has actually negotiated a deal."

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TRANSCRIPT ON AIR TANKERS

Gen. John P. Jumper, Chief of Staff, USAF
Hon. James G. Roche, Secretary, USAF

Testimony before the Senate Defense Appropriations
Subcommittee On the 2003 Air Force Budget


May 15, 2002

JUMPER: Well sir, as you know we have about 120 KC135s in the PDM line at Tinker Air Force Base today. In the last several years we've doubled the amount of time from about 180 days to more than 300 days it takes to take one of these aircrafts apart, fix all the corrosion and the things that are wrong with them and put them back together.

SHELBY: That's too long.

JUMPER: It is too long. Once they go through the process we are getting good "mission capable rates" out of the tankers. And we're getting good mission capable rates out of our air lift fleet. And these are recovering now from a long period of decline. And as you would expect, when we go into combat we see an increase in the mission capable rates because people are working very hard to use cannibalization and other techniques to keep them in the air. As you would expect, our older bombers show the effects more than the newer airplanes. But increased operation puts a greater demand on spare parts and a greater demand on our maintenance people. And while we see in the overall fleet the results of our investment, with the help of this committee, of more than a billion and half dollars over the last 4 years to fully fund our spares accounts we've seen that level off and start back up again, when you start into an operation like Afghanistan, the charts start going all over the place as you increase your tempo of operation.

SHELBY: Sir, will your '03 PDM requests meet your requirements?

ROCHE: To the best of our knowledge, yes sir. But we do face an issue that something is wrong if one fifth of our 135 fleet has to be in major dep at any one time. That's losing 20% of your capability. And while the planes work when they get out, they have to get back for corrosion controls and other repairs very, very quickly. The money we have there now continues to rework these and with the basis of replacing them sometime later this decade or early next decade. That is one of the reasons we are trying to jumpstart more quickly, so that we can retire some of the oldest ones…the E models, which are facing about 3.2 billion dollars worth of work in the next couple of years

SHELBY: Mr. Secretary, the specific goals of your plan would be to move forward and get the oldest out and the ones you can rehabilitate

ROCHE: What we would like to do is take a look at the fact that our newer aircraft…if we have the F-22s and the joint strike fighters because of internal carriage will not have to refuel as often. Therefore probably when we're finished we'll have a need for something less than 600 tankers. But it's certainly going to be in the 400-500 range. We would like to try to get a replacement for these oldest…we will retire 130 if we can get 100 to replace them and then study what we need and what pace to go on. But the issue is can we do this lease so that it is a business case where you and your colleagues can say, "yes, this makes great sense." That's good for the taxpayer, good for the Air Force, good all the way around. If we could do that, then we have a model to say this takes care of the worst, now when do we have to take care of the next ones and we can shift to a buy.

SHELBY: How long is that going to take, Mr. Secretary?

ROCHE: Oh, that will probably evolve over - oh for the whole fleet, sir?-that's going to be in about 2020-2025…

SHELBY: That's an awfully long time isn't it?

ROCHE: …But some of those planes are going to be awfully old, that's why we've got to get going on this.

SHELBY: But you are going to fully fund this, this year?

ROCHE: Yes, sir. We have no choice.

JUMPER: If I could just add, Senator..It's the unexpected that always causes the hiccups. I was recently down in Georgia, and looking at the C-5 PDM line and there was a C-5 there where they had recently found a 17-inch crack in the spark. It's when that happens is when you go into these delays that take you from 180 days to more than 300 days of repair time. It's the unexpected. In the KC-135 fleet we've had flaking on the fuel tanks we've spent almost 40,000 man-hours dealing with this flaking problem. Again, it's these unexpected problems that pop up that require us to come back to you and ask for help.

ROCHE: The flaking is because we fix leaks by using coating the tanks and the coating is flaking. This is, as Sec. Rumsfield says, keeping a 1934 Oldsmobile going. And you can do it, it just costs so much money that at some point it's not wise to continue to try to keep these things going. The 707s have catalytic corrosion problems where the dissimilar metals are no longer separated as they were originally…you get a little water, you get a battery. Some of the aluminum is delaminating. These are the things that take a lot of time and when you have one fifth of your force in major maintenance as well as routine maintenance - and as any of the 135 people will tell you - when they fly they take a lot of spare parts with them.

SHELBY: Mr. Secretary, lastly, after you go through a major maintenance on the KC 135 planes, what is the life of the plane then?

ROCHE: We think these planes can make it. Certain of these planes. The ones that are very good are the ones that were reserved for the Strategic Air Command for years. They had very low hours on them and they were taken very, very good care of. They should be the last ones in the KC 135 fleet and they should last us to 2025 or 2030 as long as we do this. It's the ones that have been used in Tactical Air, the ones that have been used more often that are showing the wear and tear and the oldest ones. But by 2020 these are all going to be old planes…they average 41 years of age now the E models average 43 years. Add 15 years and you've got 60 year old planes. We've never flown 60-year-old planes.

SHELBY: They're going to live longer than us in some states.

ROCHE: They will.

SHELBY: Thank you.