Boeing has won its second contract in 2021 for KC-46A Pegasus in-flight refuelling tankers from the US Air Force (USAF).

The service awarded the company a $2.1 billion contract for 15 examples of the KC-46A, Boeing says on 21 January. A week earlier, the USAF awarded Boeing a contract for 12 KC-46As in a deal worth $1.7 billion.

KC-46A with F-16

Source: US Air Force

KC-46A with F-16s

Boeing delivered 14 KC-46A tankers in 2020 to the USAF, half of what it delivered the year before, after struggling with design and manufacturing problems, as well as production stoppages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The programme has long been plagued with issues that have put deliveries behind schedule and piled up about $5 billion in losses to Boeing.

However, Boeing said late in 2020 that it believed the programme was digging itself out of its hole.

“The tanker has been a drag on us for like three or four years in every way you can think of with respect to investors. But we are beginning to clear the hurdle with our customer with respect to its performance in their fleet and then their need for that tanker,” said David Calhoun, Boeing chief executive, on a third-quarter earnings call in October. “So that whole relationship, I believe, will begin to transition next year. And as opposed to being a drag on our franchise, as it’s been, I believe it will become a strength in our franchise.”

Boeing delivered the first KC-46A to the USAF in January 2019. Since, it has delivered 42 tankers.

The company is now on contract with the USAF, the tanker’s main customer, for 94 examples of the KC-46A.

Japan has also ordered four aircraft, the first of which is under construction at Boeing’s Everett, Washington facility.

In addition to highlighting the contract, Boeing also points to the possibility that the USAF’s fleet of KC-46As may be used as communication nodes in an advanced battlefield network.

The tanker will “help enable the integrated digital battlespace,” it says. “Like a cellular tower in the sky, the KC-46 connects air forces to data needed to maintain the decision advantage and win on the 21st century battlefield.”