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Opinion | Leaders should support building America’s next refueling tanker in Alabama

The only way to ensure that the Air Force is equipped with the best aerial tanker is through a fair and open competition.

Lockheed Martin's LMXT Tanker. (VIA LOCKHEED MARTIN)

As Alabama’s largest historically black college and university, it’s our privilege to play an integral part of the community we operate in by contributing an economic impact of over $350 million statewide and $228 million in the greater Huntsville area. Our diverse student body and vast employee base supporting the higher education of our students ranks us number 19 among the Top 20 largest employers in the Tennessee Valley region. With this also comes great responsibility to continue investing in our region and driving innovation.

For decades, Alabama A&M University (AAMU) has grown alongside the Alabama workforce by attracting students interested in designing and building capabilities for our next generation of defense. When Lockheed Martin announced a collaboration with Airbus earlier this year to produce the LMXT aerial refueling tanker for the Air Force’s planned KC-Y tanker competition, AAMU applauded the announcement and recognized the opportunity this partnership will create for our students.

As a university that attracts students from all over the state, it is inspiring to know that Alabamians, including our graduates, would play a key role in building this aircraft. The LMXT will be partly manufactured in Mobile, Alabama at a new state-of-the-art facility that Lockheed Martin and Airbus are prepared to invest in if the Air Force proceeds with the KC-Y competition. The selection of Alabama as a manufacturing base for the LMXT further cements our state’s reputation for excellence in the aerospace industry. The LMXT is a next generation aircraft that will combine new age technologies learned by our students and the premier skills of our aerospace manufacturing community.

The LMXT’s capabilities will far exceed the capabilities of the Air Force’s current tanker and, if it wins the competition, would provide our military with the means to confront peer adversaries with the prowess such a confrontation requires. A winning competition also means a win for Alabama.

AAMU is proud to support the aerospace industry, much of which is in our backyard. An Alabama built tanker that delivers on its promised performance would benefit our nation’s military while creating good paying jobs right here at home for our graduating classes. However, this investment in our state’s economy hinges on the Air Force moving forward with a competition for the tanker. The Request for Proposal is expected in 2023, with the projection that the Air Force will award the contract in 2024.

I am urging our Congressional delegation to do everything possible to motivate the Air Force to move forward with the KC-Y competition and provide Alabamans the opportunity to compete. The Air Force has acknowledged that a competition is the best method to contain costs and deliver on value; now is not the time to forego one. Alabama is on the move and becoming internationally recognized as a leading commercial aerospace manufacturing state. As Bulldog fans all know, Alabamians are not strangers to competition. Our aerospace industry can and will deliver on the LMXT. We should have the opportunity to compete.

I am confident that our congressional delegation shares my belief that the Air Force should pick the best aircraft for its missions. The only way to ensure that the Air Force is equipped with the best aerial tanker is through a fair and open competition.

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Dr. Daniel K. Wims serves as President of Alabama A&M University (AAMU) in Huntsville, Alabama.

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