USAF seeks BLOS capability for tanker fleet

The US Air Force (USAF) has turned to industry as it seeks information regarding the possibility of integrating beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) technologies onto its air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

A request for information (RFI) solicitation issued by the service’s Air Mobility Command on February 3 detailed the USAF’s interests. It stated that “the focus of this RFI is on the identification of existing technologies and the near to long-term development potential for the next generation of [BLOS] communications systems that can be homed within a wing-mounted pod on tanker platforms and capable of providing voice, video and data communications capabilities”.

KC-135R [USAF/SA Matthew Seefeldt] #1
USAF KC-135R Stratotanker - registration 60-0328 (c/n 18103/T0442) - assigned to the 909th Air Refueling Squadron provides tanker support during Exercise WestPac Rumrunner out of Kadena Air Base, Japan, on January 10, 2020. USAF/SA Matthew Seefeldt

The RFI continued: “The government is interested in systems that could provide the best redundancy to SATCOM communications systems in terms of performance characteristics. The response [from industry] should address aspects such as operating distance of each technology, reliability, throughput, latency, time of day and weather dependence.”

The USAF also detailed its aim to integrate this technology on its Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-46A Pegasus tanker fleets via an underwing pod. This modification would add a command and control (C2) node capability to the service’s tanker aircraft.

The BLOS communications systems that are in use today are typically employed by tethered and untethered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), along with tropospheric scatter and high-frequency systems.