Boeing [BA] said on Oct. 31 that it has accomplished its first foreign delivery of the KC-46A Pegasus tanker to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).
“The Japan KC-46A is capable of refueling JASDF, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft,” the company said. “Globally, the KC-46A has already completed more than 5,000 sorties and transferred more than 50 million pounds of fuel to other aircraft through its boom and drogue systems.”
Boeing said that it has delivered 48 KC-46s to the Air Force, which plans to have 179 KC-46s by 2029. The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) and Boeing have said that they are trying to resolve four Category 1 deficiencies on the plane in time for a full-rate production decision in 2024.
Will Shaffer, president of Boeing Japan, said in a statement on Nov. 1 that “with its ability to carry cargo and passengers, the KC-46A tanker can also support Japan’s humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.”
JASDF is to receive four KC-46As, which are to have the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] ALR-69A Radar Warning Receiver and Raytheon’s Miniaturized Airborne GPS Receiver (MAGR) 2000 (2K) to provide GPS Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) capability, and Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] AN/AAQ-24(V) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system. Boeing has said that its Japanese partners build 16 percent of the KC-46A airframe.
In the coming months, AMC expects the KC-46 to receive limited certifications and operational test clearances to allow it to refuel the CV-22 and MV-22 tiltrotors and the B-2A stealth bomber (Defense Daily, Oct. 15). The KC-46 is certified to refuel F/A-18s and the EA-18G with no restrictions. With varying restrictions the KC-46 is certified to conduct boom refueling of other KC-46s, the F-35A, the F-22, the B-1B and B-52H bombers, the C-17A transport, F-15s and F-16s, the HC/MC/AC-130J, the KC-10, the E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System, the C-5M, and the RT/TC-135s. A redesign of the KC-46’s stiff boom will mean the KC-46 is unlikely to be able to refuel the A-10 until fiscal 2023.
AMC has said that the decision to make KC-46s central communications nodes in the Air Force’s planned Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) was unrelated to limitations on KC-46 refueling of other aircraft due to Category 1 deficiencies, including the Remote Vision System (RVS), which has undergone a re-design to RVS 2.0.
Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan, the commander of AMC, approved a third Interim Capability Release (ICR) for the KC-46 on Oct. 13—a release that allows the KC-46 to refuel all variants of the F-15 and F-16 during U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM)-tasked missions, AMC said. The move is to free up KC-135s and KC-10s to focus on forward deployed refueling missions, rather than training ones. Air Force Brig. Gen. Ryan Samuelson, AMC deputy director of strategy, plans, requirements and programs and KC-46 cross functional team lead, said last month that the KC-46 “can now support 62 percent of all receiver aircraft that request air refueling support from TRANSCOM.”
On July 9, AMC approved the first ICR to allow the KC-46 to refuel aircraft using the KC-46’s centerline drogue system, while AMC approved the second ICR on Aug. 5 to permit the KC-46 to refuel the B-52, C-17 and other KC-46s using the boom.