An new Defense Department report predicts a six- to 12-month delay of initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) for the Air Force’s multi-billion dollar, next-generation KC-46A aerial refueling tanker.

The fiscal year 2013 annual report from the office of DoD Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) Michael Gilmore, released to Congress Wednesday, said analysis of initial Boeing [BA] schedules with regard to aerial refueling certifications, aircraft, support equipment technical orders and operator/maintainer training indicates operational testing slippage. It also said recent ALR-69A radar warning receiver (RWR) operational testing on the C-130H revealed that it was not effective due to integration and performance problems.

The ALR-69A RWR is part of a aircraft survivability equipment suite on the tanker that compiles info from the RWR and other on- and off-board sources and prompts the crew with automatic re-routing suggestions in the event of a threat. ALR-69A RWR is being provided as contractor furnished equipment and, in addition to previously identified shortfalls, requires additional complex integration with a tactical situational awareness system (TSAS), the report said.

Boeing’s KC-46A (right). Air Force illustration.
Boeing’s KC-46A (right). Air Force illustration.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the KC-46A. Company spokesman Jerry Drelling said Wednesday in an e-mail Boeing remains confident in its plan to support IOT&E for the KC-46A tanker and it continues to meet contractual requirements.  Drelling also said Boeing’s current assessment confirms that the company has a valid flight test plan in place and that it remains on plan to deliver the first 18 combat-ready tankers to the Air Force by 2017.

KC-46A survivability requirements focused on less likely threats and did not thoroughly consider all survivability enhancement alternatives, the report said. Preliminary analysis of the wing leading edge, wing trailing edge and center wing dry bay fire test data confirmed the vulnerability of the KC-46A to dry bay fires. A dry bay fire suppression system was not considered in the design, the report said, even though it could have reduced KC-46A vulnerability more effectively than cockpit armor against more operationally-realistic threats.

DoD’s recommendations for FY ’13 include providing a comprehensive aerial refueling certification plan for the KC-46A, including all engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase 1 and 2 receivers, and planning testing against realistic cybersecurity threats to identify vulnerabilities for correction. In addition, the Air Force should plan follow-on penetration testing to assess information assurance (IA) performance in terms of protect, detect, react and restore functions. The Air Force should also consider the integration of a dry bay fire suppression system with the potential to reduce aircraft and crew vulnerability against operationally realistic threats, the report said.

The KC-46A planned test program includes a number of shortfalls the Air Force has partially addressed but still requires complete resolution to gain DOT&E approval at Milestone C. This includes mitigating the impact of concurrent activities and planned flying hours for the EMD program that place a high demand on limited test aircraft and simulator resources. This also includes test loading that is unbalanced across EMD test aircraft and that operational test aircrew and maintenance personnel must have time to attain their training requirements and establish proficiency in their tasks before the start of IOT&E.

The technical order verification process must also be completed before the start of IOT&E and sufficient calendar time must be allotted for correction of discrepancies and/or deficiencies discovered during developmental testing prior to the planned start of operational testing, the report said.

Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said Wednesday in an email the KC-46 developmental test program is aggressive, but achievable, and that the full time period reserved for IOT&E remains intact. All integrated test team (ITT) members are working toward the planned IOT&E start date of May 2016, Gulick said, and schedule risk mitigations, such as leveraging Boeing commercial test resources, are in place.

Gulick said the Air Force’s KC-46A team is working closely with Boeing to ensure flight test plan development addresses receiver certification needs. The KC-46 program office 2013 schedule of risk assessment, Gulick said, indicates Boeing has a greater than 90 percent probability of meeting its contractual required assets available (RAA) date of August 2018 for delivery of 18 aircraft and associated support.

Air Force brass have said the KC-46A is one of the Air Force’s top priorities along with the F-35 and new long range bomber.