L3Harris and Embraer to develop new Agile Tanker based upon KC-390 Millennium airlifter to support USAF operational imperatives

L3Harris and Embraer to develop new Agile Tanker based upon KC-390 Millennium airlifter to support USAF operational imperatives

By Dario Leone
Sep 20 2022
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The companies signed an agreement to expand the capabilities of Embraer’s KC-390 Millennium tactical tanker aircraft.

L3Harris and Embraer announced on Sep. 19, 2022 a partnership to develop an “Agile Tanker,” a tactical aerial refueling option to address the US Air Force’s operational imperatives and joint force refueling requirements especially for contested logistics environments.

The companies signed an agreement to expand the capabilities of Embraer’s KC-390 Millennium tactical tanker aircraft. Enhancements include the addition of advanced boom operations and mission systems to support agile basing and sustainment for operations in contested areas, and resilient communications supporting JADC2 requirements.

“U.S. Air Force strategic planners have stated agile combat employment will require refueling platforms optimized to support a disaggregated approach to air dominance in contested logistics environments,” said Christopher E. Kubasik, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, L3Harris, in a company news release. “Collaborating with Embraer to develop and integrate new capabilities to the multi-mission KC-390 provides a cost-effective, fast-to-field solution that embodies our trusted disruptor approach.”

Aircraft enhancements will complement the tanker’s existing capabilities, which already include the ability to refuel aircraft with a variable speed drogue, receive fuel, and to take off and land from short and improvised runways, allowing for greater mission area coverage.

“We continue seeking meaningful and strategic partnerships that generate new developments and expand the KC-390 Millennium’s market reach,” said Francisco Gomes Neto, President and CEO of Embraer. “Our aircraft is capturing the attention of Air Forces around the world, and we’re thrilled by this opportunity to combine Embraer’s state-of-the-art platform and systems with L3Harris’ mission-driven solutions to deliver on the U.S. Air Force’s operational imperatives.”

The Air Force operational imperatives are a roadmap for successfully bringing about the new technologies, thinking, and cultures the Air and Space Forces must have to deter and, if necessary, defeat modern day adversaries.

The speedy, versatile, customizable KC-390 Millennium can support a range of missions and possesses a high reliability rate. By combining L3Harris’ experience as an aircraft missionization prime with Embraer’s state-of-the-art jet-powered KC-390 Millennium platform, both companies are ready to provide the next generation of tanker solutions for the Department of Defense and the US Air Force.

To support the Buy American Act requirements, the parties are studying the Agile Tanker program production with final assembly in the US, followed by aircraft modernization and missionization at the L3Harris’ Waco, Texas, aircraft modification center.

The KC-390 is based on the C-390 Millennium new generation military multi-mission airlift aircraft that brings unrivaled mobility, high productivity and operation flexibility at low operational costs on a single and unique modern platform. The C-390 is capable of transporting and launching cargo and troops and performing a wide array of missions including: medical evacuation, search and rescue, humanitarian search and rescue, aerial refueling (fighters and helicopters), aerial firefighting and humanitarian assistance.

The C-390 Millennium is undergoing a full military certification process built over a dual certification approach from beginning. This hybrid process combines the efforts of both civil and military airworthiness authorities. This approach ensures the aircraft can safely accomplish all its military missions. The C-390 Millennium basic platform is being developed and certified by the Brazilian Civil airworthiness authority in accordance with FAA 14 CFR Part 25 standards. The military certification complements the civil certification with military standards, specifications and criteria in order to cover the military mission accomplishment, military items and systems.

Photo credit: L3Harris


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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