IMHO the key paragraph is:
As Air Force planners now embark on the early stages of a process to acquire a new class of refuelers and airlifters over the next two decades, there is a clear emphasis on designs that overcome the vulnerability of existing aircraft to detection and interception. That potential shift in the requirements follows a new strategy of air warfare that transforms the role of mobility aircraft from a purely supporting one to an active part in combat operations as forward-based command-and-control nodes and even strike platforms.
The article makes it pretty clear that current "tube with wings" platforms are falling out of favor and stealthy approaches are now in vogue, starting with the Navy's MQ-25.
As for phasing out the current fleet:
In a briefing titled “The Next 50 Years of AMC,” Leonelli notes that the official service life for the Lockheed C-130 is estimated to end in 2065 and for the Boeing C-17 and Lockheed C-5 around 2070. The air-refueling fleet is similarly long-lived, with the Boeing KC-135 expected to fly until 2060 and the KC-46 to retire 20 years later.
Realizing such a century-spanning mobility fleet is a worst-case scenario for AMC planners. “God forbid,” Leonelli said. “We don’t want to hit those end zones by any stretch of the imagination.”
So the airframes have lots of life left in them, but the USAF planners view waiting that long to replace them is a worst case scenario.
The original plan, unveiled a month before the KC-X contract signing in 2011, called for a follow-on KC-Y procurement, succeeded later by a KC-Z contract. Over the last seven years, the Air Force has deleted the KC-Y/Z nomenclature. The new acquisition program will be called the Advanced Aerial Refueler (AAR), says Leonelli.
So it seems the model that many have been working from, a smooth KC-Y follow-on contract that would have no choice but be for more KC-46s, is dead, at least in the minds of current Air Force planners.
I love the pristine way USAF views procurement, where they can draw up whatever plans they want and the taxpayers will gladly pay for it.
As for one of our favorite topics:
Air Force officials also are grappling with the airlift fleet implications of the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV), a tactical system with growth requirements that may exceed the capabilities of the Lockheed Martin C-130J or the Boeing C-17 to support.
The baseline requirement for the NGCV calls for a weight of up to 40 tons, which significantly exceeds the 23-ton payload limit of the C-130J. The maximum payload for a C-17 is over 77 tons, but not if the aircraft needs to land on a short or unimproved runway. According to Leonelli, the C-17 may not be able to support the NGCV’s growth plan, which includes a chassis that can accommodate a vehicle weighing as much as 60 tons.
“This NGCV is supposed to be ideally suited for urban combat,” Leonelli says. “That’s going to be a challenge as we look at our next airlifter . . . unless we can change the way the Army thinks. How do you take something of that size in blacked-out operations at potentially high altitude on a short dirt, grass or unprepared strip of a couple thousand feet?”
That is such a classic line. The US Army wants a capability the USAF can't provide, so USAF proceeds to see if they cannot "change the way the Army thinks".
Pretty much as I predicted, the USAF expects it will be able to change the Army's mind and they're pretty much right, because the Army is ass when it comes to high tech weapons system procurement.
If the Army can sort itself out and justify getting what it wants, you can count on USAF using that requirement to get an all new transport that will "overcome the vulnerability of existing aircraft to detection and interception" and be "an active part in combat operations as forward-based command-and-control nodes and even strike platforms".
The A400M was not even mentioned in the article IMHO for the obvious reason: it's not even being considered. They are an example of the kind of platform that the USAF is trying to move away from.