Alabama Officials Paint Positives After Lockheed Exits Airbus Partnership for Military Tanker Competition

Oct. 26, 2023
Alabama officials including Gov. Kay Ivey say they are confident in Airbus’ ability in going it alone as it attempts to secure a coveted multi-billion dollar military contract to build at least 75 refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Alabama officials including Gov. Kay Ivey say they are confident in Airbus’ ability in going it alone as it attempts to secure a coveted multi-billion dollar military contract to build at least 75 refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

But it could be an uphill climb following a report from the news site Reuters on Monday confirming that Lockheed Martin was exiting the tanker competition. Lockheed had been partnered with Airbus to build the LMXT, an updated version of the A330 MRTT refueling tanker that is built overseas.

“I have total confidence Airbus is the best team to meet the Air Force’s needs and believe they should win the tanker contract,” Ivey said in a statement to on Wednesday. “History shows Alabama always stands ready to meet our country’s defense needs, and this will be another way our people can deliver. I look forward to Airbus winning this contract and bringing even more business to our state.”

Said U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl, R- Mobile: “The Airbus MRTT is a proven tanker platform which already refuels U.S. aircraft overseas. As one of the largest airplane manufacturing hubs in the world, Mobile is ready and able to provide the U.S. Air Force with an affordable and reliable tanker. I will continue to support Airbus as they enter this competition to provide the capability our warfighters need.”

The competition is high stakes for Mobile. If the European aerospace company, which operates its largest North American manufacturing facility in Mobile, can win the contract, it would mean hundreds of new jobs and the construction of a new final assembly line at its sprawling complex south of downtown.

Airbus, in a statement to, said it wasn’t backing away from the tanker competition with Boeing and was confident in its MRTT military aircraft. Airbus builds MRTT tanker, which is flown by the armed forces of several nations, in France and Spain.

“Airbus remains committed to providing the U.S. Air Force and our warfighters with the most modern and capable tanker on the market and will formally respond to the United States Air Force KC-135 recapitalization (Request for Information),” the company’s statement reads. “The A330 U.S.-MRTT is a reliable choice for the U.S. Air Force: one that will deliver affordability, proven performance and unmatched capabilities.”

To win the U.S. Air Force deal, Airbus will have to offer an American-made contender to its European program.

Under its prior arrangement with Lockheed Martin, the A330 planes would have been built in Mobile and then converted into tankers at a Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, Ga.

Will Bradley, a spokesman with Lockheed Martin, said the company opted not to respond to the Air Force’s RFI because the company is transitioning the LMXT team and resources “to new opportunities and priority programs within Lockheed Martin” that include development of aerial refueling solutions in support of the Air Force’s Next-Generation Air-Refueling System (NGAS) initiative.

“We remain committed to the accelerated delivery of advanced capabilities that strengthen the U.S. Air Force’s aerial refueling missions,” Bradley said.

He said future opportunities with Airbus are uncertain.

“We are very proud of our joint contributions to the LMXT strategic tanker program and appreciate the opportunity to align the strengths of both organizations to serve the U.S. Air Force’s tanking mission,” Bradley said. “Any future opportunities will need to be considered based on specific requirements and timelines.”

Former U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne — now the president & CEO with the Mobile Chamber — said he believes the situation benefits Mobile. He said if Airbus wins the tanker contract, the entirety of the program will be developed in Mobile.

“If Airbus is going to do all of it and not share the project with Lockheed, that means many more jobs for Mobile,” said Byrne, who represented South Alabama in the U.S. House from 2014-2021. “From that standpoint, that’s a good thing for us. We know Boeing has had a difficult time trying to meet the Air Force’s requirements. Even after this year, they have not delivered a single and successful airplane.”

A spokesperson with Boeing could not be immediately reached for comment.

The current tanker battle is similar to one that occurred more than a decade ago when Airbus went up against Boeing over a program designated KC-X.

Airbus, then known as EADS and partnered with Northrop Grumman Corp., and proposed to build tankers in Mobile if chosen. It did win the initial decision from the military, but Boeing successfully appealed and ended up with the contract to build 176 of the KC-46 Pegasus planes.

Airbus went on to build assembly lines for two other families of jetliners in Mobile, and is in the process of building a third final assembly line as the company’s North America production ramps up.

The Air Force, aiming to replace hundreds of KC-135 tankers, kicked off its competition in 2022 for its second round of refueling tankers. Initially, the program called for 160 jets, but has since been slashed to 75.

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