KC-46A Pegasus Aerial Tanker Completes Firsts
November 16/17: Despite testing issues and delivery delays, Boeing has been aggressively marketing its new KC-46A tanker aircraft to Middle East governments at this year’s Dubai Airshow. There is a high demand for aerial tankers in the region as the US Air Force’s (USAF) tanker fleet supports the Saudi Arabian-led aerial campaign in Yemen with air refuelling, and the airshow is being used by Boeing as an opportunity to get governments to augment their tanker capabilities or switch allegiances. But the US airframer will have its work cut out for them—rival Airbus has recently delivered its A330 tanker to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
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 – 2017
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