KC-46 Lot 3

Fifteen more KC-46A Pegasus tankers have been ordered under a $2.1 billion contract as low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 3, Boeing announced on January 27. These aircraft are expected to be delivered by 2019. The KC-46A programme, along with the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II and the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider bomber, is among the Air Force’s top procurement priorities, and has been specifically authorised to increase production rates, despite the current continuing resolution that would normally be capped at previous levels.

This order follows contracts for two previous LRIP lots announced in August 2016. At that time, following the completion of its second operational assessment, the KC-46A passed its Milestone C review, clearing the way for transition to full-rate production.

Challenges in the KC-46A’s development have forced Boeing to absorb an anticipated total of $2 billion to $3 billion in costs under the terms of the $4.9 billion fixed-price development contract signed in 2011. The cost to Boeing increased by some $300 million in January and is still increasing.

Boeing is obligated under the 2011 contract to have 18 KC-46As (configured for boom refuelling only) delivered to the US Air Force by August 2017. Boeing has said the last of these aircraft would be delivered five months late, in January 2018. Four flight test aircraft have currently logged some 1,500 flight hours. The next upcoming hurdle for the KC-46A is the start of initial operational testing and evaluation (IOT & E). Originally scheduled for April 2017, IOT&E may have to be postponed, due to earlier setbacks in development. Testing of KC-46A vulnerability for electromagnetic pulse has been scheduled for April 2017.

David C Isby