Exactly ten years ago, after years of doubts, decisions and repeals, the Pentagon announced its decision in favor of Boeing to equip itself with 179 new KC-46 Pegasus in-flight refueling devices. A decision whose delays and cost overruns once again highlight the so-called technological risk.
At that time, they decided on the model of the North American multinational KC-46 Pegasus, leaving behind the previous choice of equipping themselves with the A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport), which had been offered by the tandem formed by the Europeans, Airbus . And the North American Northrop-Grumann with the designation KC-45. Price was a deciding factor in this choice as the US manufacturer had (a priori) granted a very risky cost reduction in order to win the bet. The decision did not take into account that the A330 MRTT was already a fairly mature product. In the same year 2011, the first units were delivered to leading customers such as Australia and Air Tanker (UK).
In the US, it was believed that developing the KC-46 Pegasus from the commercial Boeing 767 model shouldn’t raise too much concern. What did happen, however, indicated that Boeing was facing an endless array of problems: faulty fuel distribution system, electrical wiring that was not up to standards, etc. These problems also forced the US Department of Defense to fund the program with around 5,000 million euros.
The first KC-46A Pegasus should have been shipped to the United States Air Force or the USAF (United States Air Force), but the milestone didn’t occur until January 2019, and what is worse, they were immediately after the discovery of ” Debris “exposed” and “debris” in the compartments of the aircraft it had just received. Although this problem was resolved relatively quickly, Boeing continues to seek solutions to nine “critical” problems identified with the KC-46A, including a problem in connection with the crucial Remote Vision System (RVS), the remote vision system controlling the refueling process during the flight.
In March 2020, General David Godfein, then Chief of Staff of the USAF, stated that the KC-46As delivered could only take part in combat operations if absolutely necessary and on condition that they were manned by highly experienced crews.
At the same time as there was talk of decommissioning 29 old KC-135 and KC-10 tankers because they had theoretically been replaced by as many KC-46As, the United States Transportation Command or US TRANSCOM (United States Transportation Command) In order to ensure the projection of the US armed forces, it was estimated that due to the difficulties mentioned above, private operators would have to be used to maintain the refueling facilities during the flight.
Now, almost a year later, the situation for the USAF remains critical at this point, as TRANSCOM noted in a Twitter feed on February 1: the convergence of an aging tank fleet with extensive production of KC-46A and delays in the full mission capable of jeopardizing America’s ability to effectively carry out daily operations and war plans.
In an interview with the official Defense One, General Jacqueline Van Ovost, who is currently responsible for TRANSCOM, estimated that the KC-46A will not be fully operational until the end of 2023 at the earliest … at the earliest. “We are doing everything we can to expedite this,” he said. He also added that we are currently investigating limited operational capacity “but without specifying the missions involved.
The USAF currently has 42 of the 179 KC-46s planned in the program, and Boeing has also committed to increasing the delivery rate to 2 aircraft per month. In terms of capacity, the model is already certified to fuel 10 different aircraft models, albeit with some restrictions.
At the same time, TRANSCOM is expanding its contacts and enabling private companies to offer air refueling services, as is the case with Omega Air Refueling, according to
In anticipation of this situation, Airbus and the world’s largest defense multinational, Lockheed Martin, announced their partnership in 2018 to offer a solution based on the aforementioned A330 MRTT to “address the identified capacity constraints and meet the new generation’s replenishment requirements fulfill.” of operation in the complex environments of future operating rooms. “(Julio Maz Sanz).
Photo: A KC-46A Pegasus connects its seat to an F-35 Lightning II over California. (Photo Ethan Wagner / USAF)
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