KC-46A Pegasus approved to refuel F-15 and F-16 receivers

The KC-46A Pegasus has been approved to refuel F-15 and F-16 receivers following a decision by Gen Mike Minihan, commander of the US Air Force's (USAF's) Air Mobility Command (AMC), to allow another interim capability release (ICR) mission set for the tanker.

Announced on October 13, this is the third ICR for the KC-46 and allows the platform to now receive all variants of both the Boeing F-15 Eagle/Strike Eagle and the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon during US transportation command missions. 

A KC-46 Pegasus from the 97th Air Mobility Wing, assigned to the 56th Air Refueling Squadron at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, refuels an F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 49th Wing, 54th Fighter Group, Holloman AFB. USAF/ 1st Lt Daniel Lee

On July 9, the first ICR decision approved the KC-46A to refuel aircraft via its centerline drogue system. This was followed by the second ICR decision on August 5 to approve the KC-46A to refuel the B-52H Stratofortress, C-17A Globemaster III and other Pegasus aircraft using its boom.

These ICR decisions allow the Pegasus aircraft and crews to provide refuelling capacity for the USAF when operationally tasked, which would be otherwise filled by other USAF aerial tankers such as the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender.

Deputy director of strategy, Brig Gen Ryan Samuelson, AMC plans, requirements and programs and KC-46 cross functional team lead, said: “The KC-46 can now support 62% of all receiver aircraft that request air refuelling support from USTRANSCOM. This step forward accelerates the critical projection and connection warfighting requirements the Pegasus brings to the joint force, even before it’s fully operational.” 

Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers from Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire participate in an elephant walk. USAF/Staff Sgt Victoria Nelson

Despite restrictions and deficiencies throughout the programme, the KC-46 continues to grow its operational capabilities. The Pegasus has performed over 6,000 missions, which has seen an offload of 35 million pounds of fuel. Since January 2019, the KC-46 programme has made 26,000 boom contacts and 1,5000 drogue contacts.

Currently there is no timeline associated with the full ICR plan. Crews of the KC-46 will continue to train, exercise and demonstrate missions until incremental confidence measures are established that allow the AMC commander and other senior leaders to assess achievements at ICR milestones.