The KC-46 acquisition cost estimate has declined by about 5.4 percent from $51.7 billion to $48.9 billion since February 2011 and the program is on track to meet performance goals. Most of the estimated cost decline is due to fewer than expected engineering changes and changes in military construction plans.
The Air Force delayed the production decision two months, to October 2015, due to wiring problems that Boeing experienced that delayed aircraft delivery and testing. For example, Boeing completed 3.5 hours of flight testing during a single flight of the 767-2C (a precursor to the KC-46 tanker) in 2014, compared to nearly 400 flight test hours it planned to conduct. With program office approval, Boeing restructured its nearly 2,400 development flight test hour plan to focus on demonstrating key KC-46 aerial refueling capabilities required for the production decision.
Significantly less testing will now be conducted prior to the decision and only three test months will be on a KC-46, compared to the original plan of 13 months. This testing is intended to demonstrate design maturity and fix design and performance problems before a system enters production.
Boeing remains at risk of not being able to demonstrate the aerial refueling capabilities in time to meet the new production decision date due to late parts deliveries, software defects, and flight test cycle assumptions, which could result in additional delays.
Program officials are gathering manufacturing knowledge to support a production decision, such as determining if suppliers can produce military subsystems in a production environment. However, the program office will have less knowledge about the reliability and performance of the KC-46 than planned because of reduced testing prior to the decision.
While this increases the risk of discovering costly problems late in development, contract provisions specify that Boeing must correct these at no cost to the government.