Congress should limit the production of KC-46A Pegasus tankers to the yearly minimum until contractor Boeing [BA] successfully implements crucial solutions that will get the aircraft to operational status in two years, a key House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member said March 4.
HASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Ranking Member Rob Wittman (R-VA.) told reporters Wednesday that his committee is considering measures it can take to put more pressure on Boeing to develop and implement fixes to the aircraft’s Remote Vision System (RVS) more quickly.
Lawmakers could choose to require that the Air Force accept the minimum number of aircraft from production, or even float re-competing future phases of the KC-46A’s development, he said in a gaggle at the annual McAleese & Associates Defense Programs Conference in Washington. D.C.
“I think both of those things should be at the avail of the Air Force and of the committee to … hold Boeing’s feet to the fire,” he said. Boeing has an interest in getting the solutions achieved quickly because “they would like to build more aircraft past the first phase, and if you go back and re-compete it then it’s going to be a challenge for them.”
Wittman said he would like to see the production line slow to the contract’s minimum of 12 aircraft per year in 2020 and continue at that pace until the RVS is fixed. Boeing officials have previously said the fix would require both hardware and software modifications, and Wittman reemphasized that Wednesday (Defense Daily, Jan. 25, 2019).
Boeing has projected it could deliver up to 15 aircraft this calendar year. As of Feb. 12, the company has delivered 31 aircraft to the Air Force since the first flyout took place in January 2019.
The ranking member’s comments come after Air Force officials have been questioned by Congress over the past week on its proposal to retire over 100 legacy aircraft – including aging KC-10 and KC-135 tankers – and over the ongoing Category-1 deficiencies that are preventing the KC-46A from being operationally capable (Defense Daily, March 3). Senior service officials told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that a fix for the RVS is expected to be fully implemented in the KC-46 fleet by 2023. Wittman said he would like to see a fix happen within two years or sooner.
Back on Capitol Hill, SASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) told Air Force officials Wednesday during a posture hearing that as the committee gets closer to markup of the FY ’21 National Defense Authorization Act, “we have to make a decision about building more planes that we know are going to have to be significantly retrofitted.”
Wittman noted that as the Air Force is looking to perform some major modernization efforts over the next few years and is proposing the retirement of legacy aircraft to fund new platform development, “KC-46A is another one of those examples about how this really quickly reverberates if you don’t get things done quickly.”
That being said, “There’s a new attitude that’s come out of Boeing, so I want to give their leadership their credit,” he added. “But I’m going to give leadership credit up to a point of saying, you’ve said the right things; now we’ve got to see the right things happening.”