By HOWARD ALTMAN | The Tampa Tribune
As local politicians and business leaders jockey to bring as many as 36 of the next generation of aerial refueling tankers to MacDill Air Force Base — providing a big boost for the local economy — consider this:
In a report about unmanned aviation systems published in January by the Congressional Research Service, Jeremiah Gertler broaches the idea that the KC-135 Stratotankers — and by extension the next-generation KC-46As — could someday be replaced by drones.
“Tanker flight profiles are relatively benign compared to many others, and they tend to operate far from enemy air defenses,” wrote Gertler in the report, titled “U.S. Unmanned Aerial Systems.”
“Except for operating the refueling boom (to refuel Air Force aircraft), the refueling crew’s primary job is to keep the aircraft flying straight, level, and at a steady speed.”
Gertler describes himself as a “specialist in military aviation.”
I’m no specialist, but having watched a KC-135 crew out of MacDill refuel a B-52 several miles in the air, straight, level and steady, it is no easy feat.
That said, Gertler wrote his report because unmanned aerial systems “comprise a rapidly growing portion of the military budget, and have been a long-term interest of Congress. At times, Congress has encouraged the development of such systems; in other instances, it has attempted to rein in or better organize the Department of Defense’s efforts.”