Air Force To Hash Out KC-46A Tanker Schedule With Boeing

U.S. Air Force officials plan to meet with Boeing [BA] representatives in early or mid-April to try to reach agreement on a new delivery timeline for the delay-plagued KC-46A Pegasus tanker, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said March 30.

“Right now, we don’t have an agreement on what that schedule is, and I think probably the most important thing that will come out of that [meeting] is a drive-to date for delivering the first airplane,” Wilson told reporters after speaking at an Air Force Association (AFA) breakfast. “We need to get a date, drive to the date and get iron on the ramp.” 

A Boeing KC-46A tanker refuels an F-16. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

A Boeing KC-46A tanker refuels an F-16. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

While Boeing has told the Air Force that it expects to deliver the first plane in the April-to-June quarter, the Air Force projects that the milestone is likely to occur late this year.

The program has experienced several schedule slippages due to delays in completing flight tests and obtaining airworthiness certifications (Defense Daily, March 7).

The Air Force recently learned that two of the plane’s systems -- the Centerline Drogue System (CDS) and the Remote Vision System (RVS) – are not yet meeting performance requirements (Defense Daily, March 15). A service official told a congressional panel in mid-March that it is too early to tell whether those deficiencies will further delay the program.

Turning to other programs, Wilson endorsed comments made the previous day by Air Force Gen. Chief of Staff David Goldfein, who said the service wants to reduce sustainment costs for the new F-35 Lightning II to those of legacy fighters (Defense Daily, March 29).

“That’s a reasonable goal,” Wilson told reporters.

The Air Force is working on the matter with the Department of Defense’s F-35 Joint Program Office, which aims to cut operation and sustainment costs for the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built jet by 38 percent, or $3.8 billion a year over the next 10 years.

The Air Force expects to achieve the savings through various means, including refining how it buys and builds spare parts. 

“It’ll be a thousand things,” Wilson said.

To help its Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) field new capabilities more quickly, the Air Force plans to roll out organizational and other changes over the next eight weeks, Wilson told the AFA audience. 

“Be prepared to have your socks blown off,” she said.

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC’s commander, told reporters in November that his center is taking several steps to speed up its acquisition of satellites and other equipment (Defense Daily, Nov. 2, 2017). Among the steps is giving leaders of SMC’s directorates more responsibility for the smaller programs they manage.

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