The Air Force has certified the KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueler program to enter initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E), the service said Oct. 23, making its goal to reach the critical milestone by this fall.

The service’s program executive officer for tankers, Brig. Gen. John Newberry, formally certified the Pegasus’ transition into IOT&E on Tuesday, per a Wednesday statement.

The Boeing [BA]-led program has long suffered setbacks, cost overruns and schedule delays, and has most recently been beleaguered by delivery delays related to foreign object debris found on aircraft and the manufacturing line, as well as several ongoing Category-1 deficiencies.The FOD issue has largely been resolved, and work continues to resolve the deficiencies, officials have said.

As recently as September, the Air Force expressed hope the program would enter IOT&E by this fall, with Air Mobility Command Commander Gen. Maryanne Miller telling reporters at a recent industry conference that despite concerns stemming from those issues, “It’s a great airplane. We just have to ensure that it stays on a three- to four-year track to be ready for the warfighter.” (Defense Daily, Sept. 18).

The Air Force statement issued Wednesday noted that the Air Force “continues to test the new weapon system, while Boeing corrects identified deficiencies in parallel, as the most expeditious means of achieving full operational capability.”

“Air Force leadership remains concerned with Boeing’s slow progress resolving issues limiting the KC-46’s operational capability and continues to work with Boeing to ensure the KC-46 meets all essential mission requirements,” Capt. Cara Bousie, an acquisition public affairs officer, said in the statement.

Receiver testing continues for the KC-46, which as of Oct. 16 completed its most recent certification to refuel V-22 Osprey tiltrotor military transport aircraft, Boeing announced via Twitter. As of Oct. 11, the company had delivered 22 KC-46 aircraft to the Air Force, per the company.

The service recently awarded Boeing a contract modification worth over $2.6 billion for the Pegasus’ Lot 5 production, to include 15 additional aircraft, data, two spare engines, five wing refueling pod kits and associated spares and support equipment. Work will be performed in Seattle and is expected to be completed by March 2023. (Defense Daily, Sept. 27).