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Boeing gets $2.3B to deliver another 15 KC-46A tankers to US Air Force

KC-46 orders
Photo: Boeing

The US Air Force has awarded Boeing a $2.3 billion contract for the delivery of an additional 15 KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft.

To date, 128 KC-46A Pegasus are on contract with the US Air Force, with 68 delivered and operationally deployed. The latest contract represents the ninth production lot and will see the company deliver the aircraft by August 2026.

The KC-46A Pegasus delivers fuel and data for the fleet, as well as cargo, personnel and aeromedical transportation for joint force rapid mobility, global reach and agile combat employment.

Last year, the US Air Force Air Mobility Command approved the KC-46A for global operations including combat deployment. The Pegasus continues to demonstrate its agile combat employment capabilities, recently completing a 42-hour endurance flight supporting a US Air Force Bomber Task Force mission in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The combat-ready KC-46A is transforming the role of the tanker for the 21st century,” said James Burgess, vice president and KC-46 program manager. “We’re proud to work side-by-side with the Air Force ensuring the Pegasus provides unmatched capabilities and continues to evolve for the U.S. and its allies’ global mission needs.”

During 2022, KC-46A aircraft operating in a series of US Air Force global employment exercises in the European theater, Indo-Pacific region and the Middle East.

Even as the new tanker continues to make progress, the air force and Boeing are still working on problems that have long plagued the airframe, such as the remote vision system (RVS). The system’s cameras and display allow operators to observe and reposition the boom—a rigid telescope that delivers fuel to the receiver aircraft. The RVS currently cannot be used to perform all aerial refueling missions because it does not work in changing lighting conditions.

In its latest report, Pentagon’s weapon tester DOT&E said deficiencies with the fielded RVS in low sun angles and dynamic lighting conditions continue to degrade boom AR effectiveness. However, the test team recorded zero undetected contacts outside the receptacle during IOT&E AR events throughout fiscal year 22. This suggests the restrictions the Air Force put on the system using the RVS have been adequate to avoid additional occurrences of undetected contacts outside the receptacle. These restrictions come at a cost of interrupting boom AR operations if lighting conditions invoke the restrictions.

DOT&E further said the operational availability (≥80 percent threshold) and mission capable rate (≥90 percent threshold) are currently well below their threshold requirements, as are several secondary suitability measures. The latest factors affecting these measures include scheduled inspections and reliability problems with two fuel system components. In particular, fuel manifold leaks have degraded receiver capability and caused mission delays or cancellations since FY20.

Boeing is on contract for 138 KC-46A Pegasus tankers globally. Boeing has delivered two of six KC-46A tankers to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and is on contract for four KC-46A tankers for the Israel Air Force.