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Air Force says tankers old

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2003

WASHINGTON - The Air Force's refueling tankers are old, decaying and too expensive to maintain, Air Force officials told a congressional panel Tuesday.

But a congressional investigator said most of the KC-135 planes that make up the bulk of the fleet are functioning well. The Air Force said as recently as last year that it wouldn't have to begin replacing the planes until 2009, said the investigator, Neil P. Curtin of the General Accounting Office.

MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa is set to get 32 KC-767A refueling tankers, $202.1-million in military construction and 103 officers and 252 enlisted personnel. The new tankers would begin arriving in 2010.

The urgency of replacing the planes will be a key issue as Congress considers a $16-billion contract to lease 100 modified 767 jetliners from Boeing.

Supporters say the unusual leasing plan would allow tankers to be delivered three years earlier than a purchase would and would defer costs. Opponents question the need to speed up tanker delivery and say the plan will result in billions in additional expenses.

The fleet's average age is 42 and some of the oldest planes date to 1957.

Lt. Gen. Michael E. Zettler, deputy chief of staff for installations and logistics, and Maj. Gen. Paul Essex, director of programs at Air Mobility Command, said KC-135 maintenance costs were rising and it wasn't worthwhile to invest more money in them. The planes have corroded and, with such old aircraft, there's a risk of problems being identified in the future that could ground the fleet .

The GAO's Curtin said the tankers have functioned well in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the United States.

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