This proof-of-concept demonstration was carried out on November 6, when a commercially operated KDC-10 tanker operated by Omega Aerial Refueling Services refuelled USAF F-16Cs assigned to the 51st Fighter Wing’s 36th Fighter Squadron ‘Flying Fiends’ that were deploying from Osan Air Base, South Korea, to Paya Lebar Air Base, Singapore, to participate in Exercise Commando Sling 2023. The bilateral training event with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is sponsored by the USAF’s Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) command.
In addition to refuelling the fighters, the KDC-10 carried 40 airmen and four pallets of cargo. The tanker (N264DE, formerly registered as T-264) is one of two that Omega acquired second-hand from the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) following the type’s retirement from Dutch service. The second KDC-10 (N235UL) was previously registered as T-235.
The refuelling evolution was the latest demonstration for the USAF, which had previously conducted trials between a commercially operated KC-135R tanker and a USAF E-3 Sentry and RC-135 Rivet Joint of Air Combat Command’s 552nd Air Control Wing and 55th Wing, respectively. The evolutions were carried out by Metrea Strategic Mobility during Exercise Resolute Hunter 23-2 in late June 2023. Metrea announced it had acquired four KC-135Rs that were previously operated by the RSAF in October 2020.
While the US Navy and USMC have utilised the commercial tankers to support deployments for some time, the USAF has not previously used the capability. The service has begun evaluating the use of commercial tanker support in order to free up its own aerial refuellers to carry out operational missions.