Air Force and Boeing Company officials met for the KC-46A program post-award conference recently to discuss program specifics, including a technical overview of the program.
The discussions, which took place in Harbour Pointe, Wash., featured details of the in-line production process, draft integrated master schedule, and logistics support and training. Air Force officials toured the production line in Everett, Wash., where Boeing will manufacture the KC-46A.
During a recent interview with the Defense Writers Group, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley discussed the KC-46A acquisition process and said the service’s senior leaders applied lessons learned from the previous tanker-acquisition process.
“We closely evaluated why we did not succeed the previous time,” Secretary Donley said. “We took a long time to do that (with) several months of intense internal analysis and debate on what the strengths and weaknesses of our previous proposal had been.”
After careful evaluation of the prior selection effort, Secretary Donley said, Air Force leaders pared down to essential requirements, built a solid team with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other participating services, and maintained discipline throughout the process.
“We staked out what we thought was the best deal for the warfighter and the best deal for the taxpayer in terms of how to structure that in the (request for proposal), and we stood by it,” Secretary Donley said.
The KC-46A is the first phase of a three-phase tanker aircraft recapitalization effort, and the program will deliver 18 tankers by late fiscal year 2017.
Air Force officials noted the aircraft’s improved capability will include boom and hose/drogue refueling on the same mission, worldwide navigation and communication, cargo and passenger configurations on the entire main deck, improved force protection and survivability, and multi-point air refueling capability.
With a maximum fuel capacity of more than 212,000 pounds, and the ability to transfer more than 207,000 pounds of fuel, the KC-46A features a refueling receptacle that allows the aircraft to receive fuel from other boom-equipped tankers at a rate of 1,200 gallons per minute. This capability will allow the KC-46A to dramatically extend its reach and flexibility for missions.
The KC-46A, a commercial variant of the Boeing 767 airliner, is to be bought on a fixed-price basis, according to Air Force senior leaders. Additionally, any significant changes to the contract will need to be approved at a high level within the Air Force, further limiting potential cost increases.
Air Force pilots, officials said, will benefit from state-of-the-art systems that meet future mission requirements, to include a glass cockpit with 15-inch diagonal, multi-functional electronic displays containing an array of flight information and weather data.
The KC-46A is intended to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which has been the primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years.
Service officials said the new aircraft is designed to be combat-ready from day one and offers more refueling capacity, enhanced capabilities, improved efficiency, and increased capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation.
It will provide aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft.