CAPITOL HILL: With KC-46s stacking up, the Air Force and Boeing have been at an impasse for months over whether the service would accept delivery of the troubled tanker. Rep. Rob Wittman has one bit of advice for the company: “Simply to Boeing: Get it Done. Get it done.”
Since we published our podcast on iTunes last week, it looks as if the Air Force has agreed to begin accepting delivery, but it’s not exactly tomorrow.
In a statement today, Air Force undersecretary Matt Donovan said the first KC-46 won’t be delivered until October. That gives Boeing time to fix the various problems afflicting the $4.9 billion program, and the service some margin so it can be pretty sure it won’t be saddled with any planes that don’t meet its operational requirements.
Most of the 17 other planes will be accepted over the following six months.
Here’s Donovan’s statement: “As a result of months of collaboration, the Air Force and Boeing KC-46A teams have reached an agreed joint program schedule to get to the first 18 aircraft deliveries,” Donovan said. “This includes the expectation the first KC-46A aircraft acceptance and delivery will occur in October 2018, with the remaining 17 aircraft delivered by April 2019. While the KC-46A flight test program is nearly complete, significant work remains. The Air Force is looking forward to KC-46A first delivery and will continue to work with Boeing on opportunities to expedite the program.”
Boeing had insisted the tankers would be delivered this summer.
In March, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson voiced her unhappiness with Boeing’s attention to the KC-46. “One of our frustrations with Boeing is they’re much more focused on their commercial activity than on getting this right for the Air Force, and getting these aircraft to the Air Force,” Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee.
Boeing has grappled with a number of Category-1 deficiencies on what was supposed to be a low-risk program. Perhaps the most serious are those afflicting its boom. The boom can come unattached and not be detected. The problem is that when the boom slips away it can damage the plane’s stealth characteristics, making it more vulnerable to enemy sensors. Boeing says the number of times the boom comes unattached and is not detected is within the parameters of other refueling aircraft. The Air Force worries that any undetected contacts may be too many for the pilot of the affected plane.
The other prominent issue is with the KC-46’s Remote Vision System. The boom operator uses these Rockwell Collins cameras and sensors to guide the boom into the other aircraft and sometimes, depending on conditions, the operator simply can’t tell what’s happening. Boeing says it has a software fix for that and it’s undergoing testing.
In the podcast, Rep. Wittman also discusses the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine warfare module, the Columbia Class submarines, and the B-21 program, among others.
All Breaking Defense ‘Inside The Loop’ podcasts are available on iTunes here.