Resilient Aerial Refueling: Safeguarding the US Military’s Global Reach

Hudson Institute – The US military’s aerial refueling enterprise is a critical component of its ability to project power globally in defense of American interests. As the US military adopts new concepts to enhance its lethality and gain decision advantage, aerial refueling is increasingly necessary to enable a more distributed and dynamic force. However, with an aging inventory of tanker aircraft and stiff budgetary headwinds, it is an open question whether the US Air Force is capable of fielding the aerial refueling force that the nation needs. This study assesses the current and programmed US aerial refueling enterprise and has found that it likely would be unable to support US strategy and operational concepts at scale against peer adversaries such as the People’s Republic of China. However, the US military could address these shortfalls and improve the operational resilience of its aerial refueling enterprise by adopting new concepts, capabilities, capacities, and posture.