KC-46A Pegasus Aerial Tanker Completes Firsts
May 08/18: Can the KC-46 be delivered in time? Boeing’s KC-46 Tanker program hit another bump. Due to continuous cost overruns and schedule delays, the company has racked up more than $3 billion worth of pretax charges. Just last week Boeing disclosed another $81 million-pretax penalty on the program in its financial report for the first quarter of 2018. According to the terms of Boeing’s fixed-price development contract with the US Air Force, the company is responsible for any costs over the $4.9 billion award. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has been publicly dismissive of the company’s progress, telling lawmakers that the company has perhaps been too focused on its lucrative commercial business to give the tanker program the attention it deserves. In total, Boeing has 34 KC-46s in some stage of production, and the first four aircraft planned for delivery have already flown and are in storage. Despite company officials reassuring that all ‘required assets available’ obligations can be met, it is yet unclear if Boeing will be able to deliver all of the 18 certified KC-46s and nine refueling pods this year.
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 – 2018
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