A new government watchdog report warns that the delayed delivery of the Air Force’s next-generation aeriel refueler means that some of the program’s funds are instead going to keeping the legacy refueler fleet in flight.

In a June 12 report titled, “KC-46 Tanker Modernization: Aircraft Delivery Has Begun, but Deficiencies Could Affect Operations and Will Take Time to Correct,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes that the Air Force plans to reallocate $57 million in fiscal year 2020 funds from the KC-46 Pegasus program to maintain its KC-135 aircraft as the new Boeing [BA]-made aircraft begin deliveries this year.

Boeing’s KC-46A tanker refuels an F-15E aircraft during Phase II receiver certification testing out of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo: Boeing)

“The funding would cover the cost to fly and sustain some KC-135 aircraft above what the Command had planned, including the associated personnel costs,” the report said, noting that the information came from an Air Mobility Command officer. “Air Mobility Command officials said that decisions about retaining some legacy KC-135 aircraft will be reviewed annually thereafter. If these aircraft are retained, funding would be reallocated from the KC-46 program to support the decision.”

The GAO noted in its report that while Boeing began deliveries of the KC-46 this past January, the program remains three years behind schedule and retains three Category-1 deficiencies, two related to the Remote Vision System and one which involves a stiff boom that makes it difficult to refuel the A-10 attack aircraft . Those issues will lead to further cost incursions for the program as Boeing is responsible for fixing the issues related to the Remote Vision System, while the Air Force is footing the bill to solve the boom problem.

Costs for the KC-46 program have remained lower than originally expected, the GAO found. The program’s total acquisition cost is currently about $43 billion, or about $9 billion lower than a 2011 estimate of $51.7 billion, the report said.

Boeing has delivered 11 KC-46 aircraft to the Air Force as of late May, and has committed to delivering 36 jets by the end of 2019. Program officials told GAO that they still expect the program to ultimately meet all of its performance goals.

The agency recommends that the secretary of defense should ensure “that the KC-46 program office disseminates insights we identified in this report about the KC-46’s contracting and sustainment planning experiences for consideration by acquisition programs, in particular those considering a fixed-price-type development contract or a commercial derivative aircraft.”