USAF orders 12 more KC-46s from Boeing

Boeing announced on January 12 that it has been awarded a US$1.7bn contract by the US Air Force (USAF) to deliver 12 more KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft under a sixth production lot.

This latest contract for 12 additional aircraft brings the total number of KC-46As ordered by the service to 79. As of the start of 2021, Boeing has delivered 42 examples of the new tanker to the USAF, the first of which was handed over to the air arm in January 2019. The company continues to manufacture the Pegasus for both the USAF and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) – the platform’s first export customer – at its facility in Everett, Washington.

KC-46A [USAF/Maj Cruz A Dolak]
Boeing was contracted for the sixth production lot of 12 KC-46A Pegasus tankers on January 12, 2021. This order brings the total of number of aircraft now ordered by the USAF to 79. USAF/Maj Cruz A Dolak

Jamie Burgess, vice president and KC-46 programme manager at Boeing, said: “The investments Boeing is making in the KC-46 today will benefit generations of service members. I believe the partnership between Boeing and the [USAF] will also produce additional KC-46 innovations that will carry the warfighter well into the future.”

In August 2016, Boeing was contracted to manufacture and deliver its first two production lots of KC-46s to the USAF, which comprised seven and 12 aircraft, respectively. The third production lot for 15 examples was awarded in January 2017, followed by the fourth – for 18 KC-46As – in September 2018. The fifth production lot for another batch of 15 aircraft was awarded to Boeing in September 2019.

Boeing describes the Pegasus as a “multi-role tanker designed to refuel allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refuelling procedures. It’s also equipped to carry passengers, cargo and patients on any mission at any time.”

KC-46A [Khalem Chapman]
Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, serial 15-46009, assigned to the USAF’s 22nd Air Refueling Wing was featured in the static display at the Paris Air Show 2019. Khalem Chapman

The USAF is actively growing its KC-46A fleet, which is being procured to ultimately replace the service’s legacy tanker aircraft – the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender. However, the KC-46A programme has been beset with delays, problems and cost overruns throughout its development.

The most notable of which is the tanker’s troublesome Remote Vision System (RVS), which provides imagery to the boom operator during air-to-air refuelling operations through a series of cameras. This system features numerous Category 1 deficiencies that have led to a complete redesign of the suite. Known as RVS 2.0, the new system will include 4K colour cameras with proper viewing geometry, operator stations with larger screens, boom assistance augmented reality and a laser ranger for measuring the distance of the aircraft being refuelled.

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. To read more about the KC-46’s EVRS and RVS 2.0 solutions, follow the link below.