The US Air Force’s new KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tanker has been cleared to provide fuel to more aircraft types as the tanker gradually increases operational capability.
The overall fourth mission set released so far was approved by Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command, on December 6.
Also known as an “interim capability release,” the decision allows the KC-46A to refuel the AC-130J Ghostrider, HC-130J Combat King II, MC-130J Commando II, C-5M Super Galaxy and E-3G Sentry during US Transportation Command-tasked missions.
On July 9, 2021, the first ICR decision approved the KC-46A Pegasus to refuel aircraft using its Centerline Drogue System. The second ICR decision, which approved the KC-46A to refuel the B-52, C-17 and other KC-46 aircraft using its boom, was made Aug. 5, 2021. Approved on Oct. 15, 2021, the third decision allowed the KC-46A to refuel all variants of the F-15 and F-16.
The service came up with the plan to gradually introduce missions to the tanker after tackling several challenges during the program, which have included issues with the Remote Vision System not providing a clear visual of the refueling boom. Boeing is paying out of its pocket to fix the issues.
“The KC-46A can now support nearly 70 percent percent of all receiver aircraft that request air refueling support from USTRANSCOM,” said Lt. Col. Kevin White, AMC’s Deputy Chief of Aircraft and Logistics Requirements Division and KC-46A Cross Functional Team Deputy Lead. “In addition, we are putting the Pegasus against our highest priority missions such as direct presidential support.”
While the air force says that there is no timeline associated with the overall ICR plan, current estimates say the Pegasus could reach initial operational capability in 2024, after a seven-year delay.
Deliveries of the tankers are continuing, however, despite the issues, with Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst welcoming its first two KC-46As on November 9. The latest delivery brought the total number of KC-46As in the Air Force inventory to 50.
The KC-46A currently operates out of McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H; and Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.