AIR FORCE NEWS
First Flight of New Air Force Tanker Set for Next Week
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Air Force’s KC-46A Pegasus tanker is slated to take its maiden test flight next week, a top program official announced on Sept. 15.
“The next milestone is the first flight,” said Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson, program executive officer for tankers at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
“I can share with you today that the first flight is schedule for the 25th of September … as long as something else doesn’t come up,” he said at the Air Force Association Air and Space conference.
The key event in the program has been delayed by several months, partly due to technical issues, including a problem with fuel contamination. The first test flight for a fully configured KC-46A was originally scheduled for late 2014, but it was postponed until April 2015 and then pushed back again.
Richardson said the fuel issue has now been fixed.
“We are definitely struggling with the schedule but I will tell you we are not struggling with performance,” he said.
The program is on pace for a Milestone C production decision in April, he said. That would be followed by two low-rate initial production awards, probably in May and June. The quantities for those lots would be seven and 12, respectively, he said.
However, the plan would be derailed if Congress fails to pass a new budget and funds the government through continuing resolutions in fiscal year 2016, Richardson noted.
“LRIP Lot 2 is fiscal year ‘16 funding. So if we get into a CR situation this will create a very large problem for this program because you know we can’t go above fiscal year ‘15 quantities and I don’t have a contract that says I can award seven aircraft,” he said
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the delays in the program’s self-imposed deadlines for completing key qualification and planned ground and flight testing activities indicated that the program was “at risk” of not meeting its planned delivery milestones.
Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer, is expected to deliver 18 tankers by August 2017.
“I am concerned that the recent problems with the tanker modernization program could prevent the Department of Defense from delivering this critical capability to our war fighters as promised on schedule,” McCain said in a recent letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
Richardson said he is hopeful the August 2017 target will be met.
“I’m cautiously confident” but “there’s no doubt that the schedule margin is gone in the program,” he said. “But we do believe that with the resource pool that they [Boeing] have, that they can get there.”
The KC-46A is intended to replace the aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet which has been the Air Force’s primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. The platform is expected to provide refueling capability to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, as well as those of allied nations.
The Air Force signed a fixed-price development contract with Boeing for the KC-46, and the government’s financial liability is capped at $4.9 billion. The plan is for Boeing to ultimately provide 179 new tankers.