USAF approves second KC-46A ICR milestone

The US Air Force’s (USAF’s) Air Mobility Command (AMC) approved another Interim Capability Release (ICR) mission set for the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker on August 5, marking the second such milestone to occur in less than a month.

This latest milestone regards the Pegasus’ air refuelling boom mission set and allows the aircraft to become taskable by US Transportation Command to engage with C-17A Globemaster III, B-52H Stratofortress and KC-46A receivers operationally. Approved by Gen Jacqueline Van Ovost – the commander of AMC – this decision allows the tanker and its crews to accept operational missions, which would otherwise have been covered by KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10A Extenders. It also provides predicted reliability and capacity for joint force air refuelling requirements.

KC-46A refuels USAF C-17A 12-07-16 [Boeing/Paul Weatherman]
A KC-46A Pegasus tanker refuels a USAF-operated C-17A Globemaster III heavy-lift strategic transport during a test sortie on July 12, 2016. Boeing/Paul Weatherman

The milestone comes after AMC approved the first ICR decision on July 9, 2021, which regarded the platform’s Centerline Drogue System mission set. Commenting on the platform’s progress towards being declared fully-mission capable, the USAF said: “Despite restrictions and deficiencies, the KC-46 continues to demonstrate its growing operational capacity.” Since October 2020, the Pegasus has safely conducted more than 4,700 air refuelling contacts with B-52H, C-17A and KC-46A receivers in various training and exercise missions.

Brig Gen Ryan Samuelson – AMC’s Deputy Director of Strategy, Plans, Requirements and Programs, and KC-46 Cross Functional Team Lead – said: “We have reviewed many of the KC-46 operational employment criteria over the past several months and it was clear we were ready for another milestone.

“Though a fully-mission capable aircraft is a few years away, releasing capability our KC-46 bases have demonstrated they can safely and effectively support, and employ is a large part of how AMC is accelerating the KC-46 on the path to becoming fully operational and combat-ready,” he added.

KC-46A [USAF/Maj Cruz A Dolak]
As of July 1, 2021, USAF KC-46A crews had flown more than 5,000 sorties, with more than 2,700 missions executed during the 2021 calendar year. Almost 1,000 of these missions were in support of testing and joint force taskings around the globe. USAF/Maj Cruz A Dolak

In February, Van Ovost clarified that there is no timeline associated with the ICR plan, which instead focuses on establishing confidence measures that allow the AMC commander and other senior leaders to qualitatively and quantitively assess achievements in ICR milestones. If confidence measures are not met, then ICR on a particular mission set will not be declared.

While AMC seeks to provide increased operational capacity to a stressed tanker fleet, the KC-46A’s Category-1 deficiencies still need to be resolved before the full operational capability (FOC) can be declared for the type. Prior to this, the Pegasus will need to be retrofitted with the upgraded Remote Vision System (RVS) 2.0 and a redesign of its Boom Telescope Actuator is required.

The USAF intends to begin fielding the RVS 2.0 solution from late 2023 but will start to field interim improvements from late-2021 as part of the Enhanced RVS (ERVS) update. Although a FOC declaration is still years away, substantial progress continues to be made in the platform’s development.