GE providing systems for new Air Force tanker planes

General Electric Co. said Monday it signed an agreement potentially worth $180 million to furnish mission control systems for the new aerial refueling tanker aircraft that Boeing Co. will build for the Air Force.

The GE Aviation systems will provide communications, navigation and flight management functions for the KC-46 tankers that will replace the decades-old KC-135 planes the Air Force is still flying.

Boeing’s contract calls for the company to provide up to 179 new tankers to begin to replace the Air Force’s current fleet of 416. GE’s contract is for design, development and production during the life of the tanker program, which could be 30 years or more.

The tanker program is managed from the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Air Force has said the new tanker is among its highest acquisition priorities. The planes’ aerial refueling capability makes it possible for Air Force planes to quickly get to hot spots around the world.

The GE Aviation mission control systems will be able to work with the NextGen, satellite-based air traffic control network that the Federal Aviation Administration plans to replace the nation’s current radar-based air traffic control grid, GE spokeswoman Jennifer Villarreal said.

GE facilities in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Clearwater, Fla., will team to provide the systems for Boeing’s tankers, Villarreal said.

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