CAPITOL HILL: Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson lit into Boeing today over delays in the long-troubled KC-46 refueling tanker, complaining the company is more focused on commercial work than on its Pentagon accounts, and continues to be “overly optimistic” about the tanker, which is already months behind schedule.
“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. She added that service officials met with Boeing reps last week in Seattle.
The aircraft was slated for first deliveries in August 2017. As it stands now, the first planes won’t make it to air wings until this summer at the soonest, putting it at least a year behind schedule.
Asked about Wilson’s comments, a Boeing spokesperson emailed me that “there is no greater priority at The Boeing Company right now than the delivery of the KC-46. Boeing has continued to demonstrate its commitment to deliver the tankers as soon as possible and believes in our partnership with the US Air Force.”
But the Air Force secretary expressed little faith in the company’s ability to deliver. “Boeing is saying they are going to deliver in the second quarter of 2018,” she said, adding that the company “has been overly optimistic in all of their schedule reports.” While Boeing says it will begin delivering by October, the Air Force believes that target will slip to the spring of 2019.
The company spokesperson declined to posit a delivery date for the first 18 aircraft,
The plan is to eventually replace the 60-year-old KC-135 Stratotankers and get new planes into the rotation to meet the service’s 479-tanker requirement. The Air Force plans to buy 179 tankers from Boeing. In its fiscal 2019 budget request, the Air Force outlined plans to buy 15 KC-46 tankers.
Thanks to the delays, Boeing is on the hook to use its own funds under its fixed priced-incentive fee contract to make up for the added costs. The contract puts a lid on the Air Force’s spending at $4.9 billion, and the service estimates that the program will eventually come in at around $6.3 billion. Boeing counters that the program will be completed for $5.9 billion.
The company has already compensated the government for previous schedule slippages, “and I anticipate that will be an issue in the coming months with Boeing, as well, for these most recent slips,” a visibly annoyed Wilson told lawmakers. “We have asked them to put their A-team on this to get these problems fixed and get this aircraft to the Air Force.”