NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — L3Harris, one of the world’s 10 largest defense companies, and Embraer said they’ll work together to create an “agile tanker” based on the Brazilian aerospace company’s KC-390 Millennium, with the aim of selling to the U.S. Air Force.
In a statement ahead of the Air Force Association’s Air Space & Cyber conference that starts today in National Harbor, Maryland, the companies said they agreed to add boom refueling capabilities and modernized communications equipment to the KC-390′s in support Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, requirements.
The update will also include systems to sustain operations in contested areas, they said.
L3Harris and Embraer said the enhanced KC-390 would be able to support the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment concept of establishing a dispersed network throughout a region to lessen reliance on centralized air bases vulnerable to single attacks.
“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 L3Harris CEO Christopher Kubasik, in the statement. “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.”
The KC-390′s existing capabilities include a variable speed drogue for refueling aircraft in flight, as well as the ability to receive fuel and take off and land from short and improvised runways. The Brazilian air force flies the KC-390, and Portugal and Hungary will start using it in 2023 and 2024, respectively.
Embraer sought to work with Boeing in 2018 to develop new markets for the plane, a deal that would have given the U.S. company a 49 percent stake in the KC-390 program. The companies also at that time were pursuing a strategic partnership that would have given Boeing an 80% stake in Embraer’s commercial and service business for $4.2 billion.
That effort collapsed in 2020 when Boeing pulled out of the deal.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.