WASHINGTON: After more than a decade of missteps by the Pentagon, the Air Force and Boeing, the airborne tanker program today took a major step forward as the KC-46 passed Milestone C.
“The KC-46 is ready to take the next step,” Gen. Dave Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, says in a statement announcing the approval of Low Rate Initial Production. “Our Air Force and Boeing team stepped up to meet the recent challenges.”
This means the first two Low Rate Initial Production lots for 19 planes will be announced within the next 30 days. The deal, including parts, is worth $2.8 billion. Some 18 planes are set for delivery by early 2018.
“The KC-46 program has made significant strides in moving the Air Force toward the modernization needed in our strategic tanker fleet,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says in a statement.
Boeing had to refuel an F-16, C-17, and A-10 using the boom, and and a Harrier and F/A-18 using both the hose and drogue systems. The KC-46 also got refueled by a KC-10.
After a host of problems, the tanker most recently had trouble refueling C-17s because of high axial loads. Just before the Farnborough Air Show, Boeing installed hydraulic pressure relief valves to lighten the pressure. Test proved the system worked and Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics OK’d Milestone C after reviewing all the data.
Next up? Federal Aviation Administration and military certification flight testing.