DAYTON, Ohio The Air Force is moving through the process of assessing what a future aerial refueler will look like beyond the new KC-46A Pegasus, the service’s program executive officer for the tanker directorate said June 19.

The last order for Boeing’s [BA] KC-46 tanker is scheduled for 2027 with Lot 13, and the Air Force will have to decide whether to increase and improve upon the program of record of 179 as a “KC-Y” upgrade or to move straight to procuring new aircraft under a KC-Z moniker in the 2026 timeframe, said Brig. Gen. John Newberry in a media roundtable Wednesday at the service’s annual Life Cycle Industry Days conference here. Newberry took over the leadership of PEO Tanker – located in the Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton – this past May.

KC-46 refueling F-15E. Photo: Boeing

The directorate is “still determining with [Air Mobility Command] on what we want to do following KC-46,” Newberry said, adding, “we need to start doing something.”

“If there is interest to continue on tanker recap, then you would want to do something after 2027, which is not too far away,” he continued.

Meanwhile, the KC-Z development tanker studies continue, he said. The Air Force completed a capability-based assessment this past March and is following “the normal process,” he said. The next step – the initial capabilities document that defines the mission area – is in review, he added.

A planning study for an assessment of alternatives would follow, Newberry said, although he did not immediately have a timeline projection for when that would begin.

Boeing has delivered 11 KC-46 aircraft to date, Newberry confirmed in a presentation during the conference. The program has been plagued by issues of foreign object debris (FOD) aboard manufactured aircraft since the service approved deliveries in January, and seven aircraft were delivered before the FOD was initially discovered (Defense Daily, April 2).

Newberry told reporters that the FOD issue was detected after 40 KC-46 aircraft had already been manufactured, and so the service — operating via the Defense Contract Management Agency — and Boeing have been parsing each aircraft for FOD before it is approved for delivery.

“That FOD is in the system,” Newberry said. He reiterated convictions made by Will Roper, the service’s top acquisition executive, that a plan to mitigate future FOD issues is satisfactory.