Lockheed selects Alabama and Georgia for next-gen air tanker plants

FILE PHOTO: Lockheed Martin's logo is seen during Japan Aerospace 2016 air show in Tokyo, Japan, October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Lockheed Martin announced on Monday that a future Air Force mid-air refueling tanker would be made in Alabama and Georgia, potentially creating 1,300 new jobs between the two sites.

Expansion and hiring at existing sites in Mobile, Alabama, and Marietta, Georgia, for the next U.S. tanker is contingent upon the award, which is expected in late 2024 or in 2025, Larry Gallogly, director of the LMXT program for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, told reporters on Monday.

In June the U.S. Air Force began surveying the aircraft industry to learn if another manufacturer had the capacity or interest to make the next tranche of mid-air refueling tankers similar to the recently purchased KC-46.

Lockheed has teamed up with France's Airbus in the contest, which uses an Airbus commercial plane as the basis for the tanker.

The Air Force has sought to replace hundreds of Eisenhower-era KC-135 tankers still in service in three lots. The first tranche was the Boeing-made KC-46 Pegasus which has been plagued by performance challenges including defects with an on-board video system and the boom that connects the tanker to aircraft seeking refueling.

The Air Force's June announcement kicked off the competition for the second tranche of 140 to 160 jets which would follow the Boeing contract to produce 179 KC-46 Pegasus. Boeing is competing for that second tranche as well. And a third tranche is expected to be announced in the 2030s

Airbus won a $35 billion contract in 2008 to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force. But the deal was overturned amid political pressure and the Air Force re-ran the competition, which Boeing ultimately won for 179 of its 767-based tankers.

(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Porter)

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