WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin on Friday unveiled the LMXT aerial refueling tanker, which will go head-to-head with Boeing’s incumbent KC-46 in the U.S. Air Force’s upcoming bridge tanker competition.

The LMXT is a variant of the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport, modified specifically for U.S. Air Force operators. Changes include an upgraded suite of communications for joint all-domain command and control as well as improvements to range and fuel-offload capability.

“Lockheed Martin has a long and successful track record of producing aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, and we understand the critical role tankers play in ensuring America’s total mission success,” said Greg Ulmer, who leads Lockheed’s aeronautics business. “The LMXT combines proven performance and operator-specific capabilities to meet the Air Force’s refueling requirements in support of America’s National Defense Strategy.”

The U.S. Air Force released a sources-sought notification for the bridge tanker program — also known as KC-Y — in June.

The service sought companies that could deliver as many as 15 commercial derivative tankers a year, with the new bridge tanker operational in 2029. Boeing’s KC-46 and Lockheed’s LMXT are expected to compete for the contract to produce up to 160 KC-Y aircraft.

Lockheed is expected to give further details about the LMXT on Monday during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference, but the news release spelled out several new capabilities that will be fielded onboard the LMXT.

On top of the A330 MRTT’s baseline capabilities, the LMXT will add an open-architecture backbone that will allow new communication systems to plug in, as well as “a multi-domain operations node that connects the LMXT to the larger battlespace, increasing onboard situational awareness to provide resilient communications and datalink for assets across the force,” Lockheed said in a news release.

The company highlighted that the LMXT will leverage the A330′s “operational and combat proven advanced camera and vision system” — an obvious slight against the KC-46, which will not be declared fully operational until at least 2023, when a new vision system is fielded.

The LMXT will also use the same proven fly-by-wire boom as the A330.

The A330 MRTT and KC-46 previously battled to win the U.S. Air Force’s KC-X contract, which was awarded to Boeing in 2010. Since then, however, the A330 has logged sales to 13 operators, including to the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, France and Saudi Arabia.

Lockheed will serve as the aircraft’s prime contractor for the bridge tanker competition, and the company has touted its American pedigree in promotional materials, including a video that characterized the aircraft as “built in America, by Americans for Americans.”

Lockheed has not disclosed where the LMXT will be built, but did say the company will “[work] with existing and new American suppliers.” During the previous KC-X competition held in the late 2000s, Airbus planned to build the A330 in Mobile, Alabama, and the company has significant congressional support from the state’s delegation.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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