THE US AIR Force once flew close to 800 KC-135 strategic aerial tanker aircraft. No other nation came even close to such a force of in-fight refueling assets. With few other nations possessing organic tanker capabilities, American tankers have always been in high demand around the globe.
Today, the USAF flies just over 300 KC-135s, plus KC-10s, and it is starting to recapitalize the fleet with 179 Boeing KC-46s. More tankers will be required in subsequent programs, but the Department of Defense is no longer willing or able to act as an unsupported donor to meet requirements on the world stage. Shouldering the burden of Western tanking needs today is financially and numerically impossible as squadrons groan under the weight of operational commitments.