TUKWILA, Wash.Boeing [BA] said it delivered its 61st KC-46A Pegasus tanker to the U.S. Air Force on June 14, as the program prepares for a critical design review (CDR) later this year.

The 61 includes eight of eight training planes planned for Altus AFB, Okla.; 12 of 12 for Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.; 11 of 12 for Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.; 22 of 36 for McConnell AFB, Kan.; and seven of 24 for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

Mike Hafer, Boeing’s head of KC-46 business development and a retired Air Force tanker and mobility aircraft pilot, said that Boeing’s goal is to deliver one to three KC-46s per month to accommodate retirements of KC-135 and KC-10 tankers.

One significant benefit of the KC-46, vice the older tankers, is to be the fielding of an integrated battle management suite to spot adversary air. In one exercise, Hafer said, the KC-46s were able to pick up “red air” planes and dispatch F-15EX fighters for interception.

Beside its Air Force business, Boeing is looking to expand KC-46 business abroad, including offering the aircraft as a military freighter for loading 18 463L pallets, which could carry 65,000 pounds of cargo, Boeing said. In addition, the company is exploring an autonomous boom that would remove the role of physical and remote boom operators.

In fiscal 2023, the Air Force is seeking congressional authorization to retire six KC-135s and 10 KC-10s. In addition, the service plans to field 24 Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers in fiscal 2023. The KC-46A has faced a number of technical problems, including with the tanker’s Remote Vision System (RVS), which has seen an RVS 2.0 redesign to improve depth perception.

The end of KC-46A initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) and a full-rate production decision

are not expected until fiscal 2024 because of Category I deficiencies with the aircraft’s RVS and the actuator for the refueling boom (Defense Daily, March 31).

The Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) version of the Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s fiscal 2021 report also said that the KC-46A Pegasus “is vulnerable in a cyber-contested environment” and that specific vulnerabilities and their effect on the KC-46A mission will be available in the classified initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) report annex. IOT&E for the KC-46A began in May 2019.

The Air Force is to field 179 KC-46As by 2029 to replace the KC-135s and KC-10s. At that time, the Air Force tanker fleet would consist of the 179 KC-46As and some 300 remaining KC-135s.

“Retrofits for the RVS are scheduled to begin after the completion of initial operational test and evaluation in May 2024,” per the Government Accountability Office’s annual weapons systems assessment this month. “Boeing is financially responsible for fixing these critical deficiencies, except the boom stiffness. The Air Force will assume the cost to fix the boom—currently estimated at $113 million, according to the program— because it agreed to an incorrect specification for the stiffness of the boom. Retrofits are estimated to cost another $219.2 million.”