USAF orders more KC-46A tankers

The US Air Force (USAF) has furthered its order of Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft, with 15 more aircraft being contracted.

The USAF awarded the contract, worth $2.6 billion (USD), to Boeing on 1 October, for the fifth production lot of the air arm's latest tanker aircraft.

"We’re honored to build the Air Force’s next-generation tanker and appreciate the importance of this program for our nation."

The fifth production lot will include 15 aircraft, alongside spares, engines, support equipment and wing air refuelling pod kits. It has also committed the company to produce at least a total of 67 KC-46A's for the USAF.

Jamie Burgess, Boeing's KC-46A Tanker Vice President and Program Manager, said: "We’re honored to build the Air Force’s next-generation tanker and appreciate the importance of this program for our nation... This has been a milestone year for KC-46 and a big reason for that is our great partnership with the Air Force. We expect to accomplish great things together in the years to come."

Boeing's current plan will see them produce 179 of the 767-2C based tanker-transport aircraft. The company is producing the type for the USAF and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, of which production started recently at its assembly plant in Everett, Washington.

KC-46A [Khalem]
Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, serial ​​​15-46009, operated by the 22nd Air Refueling Wing under the US Air Force's Air Mobility Command on display at the Paris Airshow 2019. Khalem Chapman.

The news of the USAF ordering more aircraft is not unexpected due to their planned commitment of aircraft to replace its legacy tanker fleet, which includes Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker and McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender tankers. However, the KC-46A programme has been hit hard with delays, problems, cost overruns and publicly noted unhappiness from high-ranking officials within the USAF.

Some of the latest problems this troubled tanker seem to have faced include its current inability to carry cargo and/ or passengers after an incident with cargo locks on the bottom floor of the aircraft unlocked during a flight, which can be dangerous for airmen travelling on the type. The USAF banned the KC-46A from fulfilling this role, filing a Category 1 deficiency report and are working with Boeing to find a solution. Category 1 deficiency reports are terms used by the USAF to describe serious technical issues that could be life-threatening. This, however, is just one of many issues the USAF is finding with the somewhat cursed KC-46A fleet, with these problems adding to Boeing's plate, making a tough year for the company even tougher. The USAF looks to have faith in the platform and in Boeing's ability to find a viable solution and is continuing with it's order schedule for the type.

Boeing delivered its first KC-46A to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, in January 2019. As of August 2019, roughly 19 aircraft had reportedly been delivered to the USAF.