KC-46A Pegasus Aerial Tanker Completes Firsts
June 17/22: Wireless The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) published a request for information on June 14 seeking industry feedback on a concept to wirelessly recharge unmanned air vehicles using a high-powered laser mounted on an external pod. Agency officials want industry feedback on the possibility of retrofitting aerial refueling aircraft like the Air Force’s KC-46 and KC-135 with “an underwing power beaming pod” to wirelessly recharge a fleet of unmanned aerial systems. The benefits of having drones recharge their batteries in mid-air include extended range and having small energy storage capacities.
DID’s FOCUS articles cover major weapons acquisition programs – and no program is more important to the USAF than its aerial tanker fleet renewal. In January 2007, the big question was whether there would be a competition for the USA’s KC-X proposal, covering 175 production aircraft and 4 test platforms. The total cost is now estimated at $52 billion, but America’s aerial tanker fleet demands new planes to replace its KC-135s, whose most recent new delivery was in 1965. Otherwise, unpredictable age or fatigue issues, like the ones that grounded its F-15A-D fighters in 2008, could ground its aerial tankers – and with them, a substantial slice of the USA’s total airpower.
KC-Y and KC-Z buys are supposed to follow in subsequent decades, in order to replace 530 (195 active; ANG 251; Reserve 84) active tankers, as well as the USAF’s 59 heavy KC-10 tankers that were delivered from 1979-1987. Then again, fiscal and demographic realities may mean that the 179 plane KC-X buy is “it” for the USAF. Either way, the KC-X stakes were huge for all concerned.
In the end, it was Team Boeing’s KC-767 NexGen/ KC-46A (767 derivative) vs. EADS North America’s KC-45A (Airbus KC-30/A330-200 derivative), both within the Pentagon and in the halls of Congress. The financial and employment stakes guaranteed a huge political fight no matter which side won. After Airbus won in 2008, that fight ended up sinking and restarting the entire program. Three years later, Boeing won the recompete. Now, they have to deliver their KC-46A.
Boeing’s KC-46A, and Its Team
KC-46A Industrial Team
KC-X: The Program
The KC-46A Development Phase: Budgets, Splits, & Dates
The KC-46A Production Phase: Risks & Numbers
KC-46A Export Prospects
KC-X: Contracts & Key Developments
FY 2016 – 2022
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