AMERICA’S TANKER: TOO IMPORTANT TO FAIL?

This year has seen a succession of problems emerging for the USAF’s already delayed Boeing KC-46 tanker program. Combat Aircraft assesses the options available to the US Air Force.

A KC-46A refuels a B-2A Spirit for the first time during developmental flight testing from Edwards AFB, California, on April 23, 2019. USAF/Christian Turner

THINGS HAVE GOT steadily worse this year for the US Air Force’s new in-flight refueling tanker, the Boeing KC-46A. Brand-new aircraft coming off the production line in Seattle were found to have foreign objects and debris left inside them from manufacturing — and this problem allegedly recurred even after Boeing was supposed to have put measures in place to solve it. Next, it emerged that cargo restraints in the aircraft hold came unlocked in flight on a number of occasions, forcing Air Mobility Command (AMC) to ban the carriage of cargo and passengers. This was yet another category one (Cat 1) deficiency, defined as a shortcoming that ‘may cause death or severe injury; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restricts the combat readiness capabilities of the using organization; or results in a production line stoppage’.

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