The US Air Force has cleared its new KC-46 tanker for limited operations despite the fact that the aircraft needs rework on some of its most crucial systems and that the testing is still not finished.
The aerial refueling tanker is expected to start flying non combat missions this year, however, it will take at least two more years before issues with the aircraft’s refueling and boom systems are resolved.
What is more, the tanker still cannot refuel A-10 without a refueling boom redesign, and it is yet to complete sufficient testing to be cleared to fill up the F-22 and F-35 fighters and the B-1 bombers.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Air Mobility Command head Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost said the limited operation flights would be in support of the US Transportation Command.
“I remain confident that accepting the KC-46A with known deficiencies offers the fastest route to fielding a fully operational weapon system,” Van Ovost said. “That said, serious deficiencies and restrictions remain with the KC-46A weapon system, and Boeing is still responsible for installing Remote Visual System 2.0 and redesigning the boom telescope actuator.”
In April 2020, the air force reached an agreement with Boeing that would see the aircraft maker pay for the redesign and remanufacturing of the faulty systems.
Despite these issues, Boeing is still finding international customers for the KC-46A. Japan has four units on order, while Israel cleared the purchase of the first two airframes earlier this month.
The US Air Force intends to buy a total of 179 aircraft to replace KC-135 and KC-10 tankers. The service expects the plane to reach an initial operational capability in 2024, after a seven-year delay.