WASHINGTON – The Air Force’s KC-46 air refueling tanker project is “on cost and on schedule,” Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said Sept. 9.
In an interview with American Forces Press Service, Fanning said the program “is in a real healthy place.” The Air Force will buy 179 of the aircraft to replace the venerable KC-135 refuelers, which generally are older than the crews flying them.
The Air Force announced selection of the Boeing tanker in February 2011.
Fanning visited Boeing’s KC-46 plant in Everett, Wash., recently. Two KC-46s now in production there will be ready for flight next year. The KC-46 is based on the Boeing 767 aircraft, which had its first flight in 1981. The company has 32 years of experience with the plane.
“It’s a commercial derivative concept, and we are doing more on the line than we would normally do, which is why we are able to meet the timelines,” the acting secretary said. “Everything is coming together really well.”
The biggest reason this program is such a success is because the requirements were clearly defined and they were locked down, he said. The service has resisted adjusting the requirements during the course of development.
Still, there has to be flexibility to adjust for the learning process and that is also a part of the contract, Fanning said.
The acting secretary stressed that the new tanker is important for the Air Force. “When we went into sequestration, it was priority No. 1 to protect this,” he said. “We didn’t want to reopen it, because it’s got very favorable terms for the Air Force.”
The tanker will replace one-third of the refuelers in the Air Force. Follow-on contracts – for what the service today calls KC-Y and KC-Z tankers – will follow, he said.
Fanning noted that while the KC-46 is an Air Force project and capability, all service members will benefit from it. “The Air Force moves everyone and everything,” he said. “All the other services depend on the Air Force to get their people and stuff around the globe.”
The KC-46 will make refueling aircraft of all services and allies easier, Fanning said. “It is truly one of the most important backbone platforms for the joint fight,” he added. “No other country can do this.”
Fanning said the Air Force mobility story is “fascinating,” adding that in visits to bases, he notices that the service’s efficiency and reach rival those of successful companies such as UPS or FedEx.
Airmen are proud of that, Fanning said, and are excited that there is progress on getting the new refuelers. “They take [the KC-46] as a commitment by the Air Force to their community,” he said.