Gear that will allow boom operators on the Boeing [BA] KC-46A Pegasus tanker to continue their work in chemical and biological agent environments is a requirement that the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center is working through.

Next year, AFLCMC is planning to certify new self-protection material for boom operators in tankers with the Remote Vision System (RVS) 1.0 and to field a new self-protection design under RVS 2.0 (Defense Daily, June 26). AFLCMC said that the KC-46 does not meet the force protection key performance parameter because the material for polarization filter appliques for chem-bio masks to allow boom operators to continue RVS refueling in such environments went out of stock last year.

Pennsylvania-based American Polarizers Inc. (API) has supplied such appliques.

“API has designed polarization filter appliques created from a different material, but qualification of the new appliques is not complete,” according to an AFLCMC June 27th email response to questions. “The RVS 1.0 solution is only compatible with the Aircrew Eye and Respiratory Protection (AERP) system mask.”

The Air Force “is in the process of phasing out the AERP system for the M69 Joint Service Aircrew Mask Strategic Aircraft (JSAM SA) assembly,” AFLCMC said. “RVS 2.0 is working an applique solution that will be compatible with the M69 JSAM SA mask.”

In normal environments, KC-46 boom operators use 3D glasses to generate the 3D images needed during remote refueling. In tainted environments, the chem-bio masks would use the polarizer appliques to create the 3D image used by the KC-46 boom operators.

Boeing and its Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary are working on self-protection improvements for the KC-46A and future tankers, Boeing said last week at the Paris Air Show (Defense Daily, June 20).

Boeing and Aurora “are investing in further developing advanced defensive systems and countermeasures for application on next-generation refueling and mobility platforms including the KC-46A Pegasus tanker,” Boeing said.

Aurora “is leading the research and conceptual design of composite components to enhance operational survivability for aerial refueling and mobility missions,” Boeing said. “This work will also focus on producibility and manufacturing at Aurora’s Columbus, Miss., manufacturing facility.”

The KC-46A is equipped with Northrop Grumman’s [NOC] AN/AAQ-24(V) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) and Raytheon Technologies‘ [RTX] ALR-69A radar warning receiver.

The Air Force requests about $3 billion in fiscal 2024 for 15 KC-46As.

“Operationally deployed for global combat operations, the KC-46A features defensive systems and data integration for multi-mission aerial refueling support closer to the battlespace than existing tankers,” Boeing said last week. “With more data for the crew and fleet, including recent Block 1 upgrades to further enhance connectivity, the Pegasus can see and relay threat information to joint force warfighters for greater fleet survivability and mission success.”

The end of KC-46A initial operational test and evaluation and a full-rate production decision for the KC-46A are not expected until fiscal 2024 at the earliest because of redesign efforts related to past problems with RVS 1.0, the refueling boom, the modified ALR-69A RWR and the Tactical Situational Awareness System (TSAS) by Raytheon’s Collins Aerospace (Defense Daily, March 31, 2022).

In the first quarter of 2019, the KC-46A program conducted a system verification review that laid out aircraft shortcomings in meeting self-protection requirements related to RVS and the use of Long-Wave Infrared (LWIR) “in hostile environments,” according to a DoD Selected Acquisition Report released last year.

“Redesign efforts are currently underway to improve functionality of RVS to meet Critical Performance Parameters in order to resolve non-compliances enabling LWIR functionality,” the report said. “At completion, we will provide demonstrated performance for KPP [key performance parameter].”

Boeing said last week that it plans to leverage Aurora’s experience with the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray. Aurora’s Columbus, Miss., location “specializes in producing composite components and sub-assemblies for the aerospace industry, such as the composite skin for Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray, the world’s first autonomous aerial refueler, which provides lightweight strengthening and anti-corrosive benefits that are crucial for the carrier-based aircraft,” Boeing said.

The U.S. Air Force may decide this summer on a buy of up to 75 tankers to fill the gap between the planned fielding of the 179th and final KC-46A Pegasus in 2029 and the fielding of the Next-Generation Air Refueling System (NGAS) in the mid-to-late 2030s (Defense Daily, Apr. 6).

The service wants to conduct an Analysis of Alternatives on NGAS in fiscal 2024 and has decided to end the KC-Y program for buying 150 commercial tankers as a bridge to NGAS–formerly known as KC-Z.