The head of US Air Mobility Command says he is not overly concerned about the Boeing KC-46A’s eight-month development delay and legacy KC-10 and KC-135 aerial tankers will not start retiring until the next-generation tanker is ready for combat.
Gen Carlton Everhart says he plans to meet with his counterpart at Air Force Materiel Command to decide an achievable initial operating capability (IOC) timeline once the $6.5 billion KC-46 development effort graduates to production. That "milestone C" decision is expected in April or May.
Everhart will announce an IOC date after weighing progress “variables” like base construction and modernisation and aircraft delivery as well as aircrew, boom operator and maintainer training. As it stands today, IOC could occur anytime from late 2017 to 2018.
“It’s going to be a realistic date out there and I want to be able to meet it,” he said at the Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida on 25 February. “Once you see that date, it’s going to be the date.”
Last week, the air force’s programme executive officer for tankers said Boeing intends to deliver the initial 18 operational tankers to the first combat-code tanker squadron and training base over six months from March to August of 2017, to achieve a contractual required-assets milestone. USAF intends to buy 15 KC-46A aircraft per year starting in fiscal year 2017.
Everhart says money is already being spent to prepare McConnell and Seymour Johnson air force bases in Kansas and North Carolina, and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, to accept the KC-46A. Preparations are also underway for the training site at Altus AFB in Oklahoma.
According to Everhart, there are no plans to divest tanker force structure leading into the KC-46’s introduction, mostly because of operational demands for tanking across the globe.
However, if air force budgets were reduced significantly to budget control act levels, he would have to consider retiring the more expensive of the two legacy platforms, the 59 KC-10s that average 31 years old.
“It’s not a matter of whether I like an airframe or not, I just have to look at what airplane is most expensive to me, and if that winds up being the KC-10, it’s the KC-10,” he says.
Everhart says the eight-month KC-46 delay is not particularly concerning since the 757-2C-based aircraft has already ticked off significant objectives in recent weeks.
“I’m optimistic about how the airplanes are going in test right now,” he says. “It’s starting to prove itself out tremendously well, but as with every test programme, I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
The air force plans to buy 175 aircraft in total.