The US Air Force (USAF) awarded Boeing a $2.63 billion contract for 15 KC-46A Pegasus aerial refuelling tankers.
The lot 5 production contract includes funds for KC-46A aircraft, as well as related product data, two spare engines, five wing refueling pod kits, initial spares, support equipment, “subscriptions and licenses,” the USAF says in a notice posted 27 September. The aircraft are expected to be finished by March 2023.
The contract comes as the USAF is pushing Boeing to deliver previously ordered KC-46A tankers that are years behind schedule and have a number of defects. The service plans to order 179 KC-46As by 2027 to replace its aging fleet of Boeing KC-135s.
Boeing was under contract to deliver 18 combat-ready KC-46A tankers to the USAF in August 2017, but did not deliver the first aircraft until January 2019. As of 18 September, the company had delivered 19 tankers.
Tanker deliveries were slowed by four category one deficiencies, including difficult-to-fix image resolution problems with cameras that guide the tanker’s refuelling boom into a receiving aircraft. Further delays were caused by foreign object debris found by the USAF this year inside the airframe of several KC-46As and refuelling wing pods made by subcontractor Cobham that struggled to get certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Despite the tanker’s troubles, the USAF says it likes the KC-46A’s capabilities, though it is bothered by Boeing’s delays and production issues. For its part, Boeing has said it is pushing hard to fix the aircraft’s problems and deliver 36 tankers by the end of 2019.
The KC-46A is scheduled to enter Initial Operational Test and Evaluation in the fall and the USAF is aiming to have the aircraft enter service by 2022 or 2023.