Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson heavily criticised Boeing for what she believes will be further delivery delays of KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tankers during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on 20 March.

The USAF had expected Boeing to deliver the first KC-46 by the end of 2017. Now, the airframe manufacturer said it will deliver by the second quarter of 2018, but the USAF believes it will miss that target date too.

“The Air Force thinks that it’s more likely to be late ’18 and Boeing has been overly optimistic on all of their schedule reports,” Secretary Wilson said in her testimony. “One of the frustrations with Boeing is they are much more focused on their commercial activity then getting this right for the Air Force, and getting these aircraft to the Air Force.”

The US Federal Aviation Administration flight testing process has not gone as fast as Boeing thought it would, and the aircraft has category one deficiencies with its remote operated fueling boom and drogue disconnect, Wilson said.

“We have asked them to get their A team on this to get these problems fixed and get the aircraft to the Air Force,” she said.

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For its part, Boeing said it is doing all it can to deliver the tankers as soon as possible.

“There is no greater priority at The Boeing Company right now than the delivery of the KC-46,” the company says.

However, the firm did not guarantee that the first batch of tankers would be delivered by the second quarter of 2018.

“While there is always risk, we’re making good progress. Again, our goal is to get those first 18 aircraft into the customer’s hands as soon as possible and we’re working closely with them to make that happen,” the company said. “We have all 34 low-rate initial production aircraft in assembly and have a great team working to get the planes ready.”

The USAF awarded Boeing a $4.9 billion contract in 2011 to modify the 767-2C commercial freighter into the KC-46A military tanker. The KC-46A is to replace an aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers.

However, the company has reported more than $2 billion in losses due to manufacturing and development issues since receiving the KC-46A contract. Over the long term, the company believes it can turn a profit as the total value of delivering the 179 KC-46As the US Air Force wants is expected to be about $30 billion.