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The U.S. Air Force's KC-10 air refueling fleet has been in operation since 1981 without significant modernization. The Air Force is considering upgrades to the KC-10 in several areas: avionics, command and control, multipoint refueling, defensive systems, and compatibility with night-vision systems. To be cost-effective, an upgrade must return a benefit that outweighs its cost over the lifetime of the fleet. For some options, this calculation depends heavily on the KC-10's mission mix, the type of role it plays (refueling only, airlift only, or dual-role), distance from base, and the number of fighters it must refuel. An assessment of options to upgrade the KC-10 — specifically, to add a tactical data link, advanced avionics, additional multipoint refueling capability, a suite of defensive systems, and lighting that is compatible with night-vision devices — weighed the costs and potential benefits of the upgrades against demands in homeland defense, theater employment, deployment, and air bridge operations and other KC-10 roles. The tactical data link, avionics upgrade, and additional multipoint refueling capability were the most cost-effective options. Defensive system upgrades could be cost-effective with the right mission mix and KC-10 role. The findings show that the night vision–compatible lighting upgrade would not be cost-effective for the KC-10. The full avionics upgrade analysis is documented Assessing the Cost-Effectiveness of Modernizing the KC-10 to Meet Global Air Traffic Management Mandates.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Benefits of Modernization

  • Chapter Three

    KC-10 Warfighting Missions

  • Chapter Four

    Valuing KC-10 Modernization Options

  • Chapter Five

    Tactical Data Link

  • Chapter Six

    Additional Multipoint Refueling Capability

  • Chapter Seven

    Defensive Systems

  • Chapter Eight

    Night Vision Imaging System-Compatible Lighting

  • Chapter Nine

    Conclusions

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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