Boeing took the first step toward transitioning from the design to the construction phase of the tanker program as it began building the KC-46 tanker refueling booms.
The Air Force lauded the progress with Air Force Maj. Gen. John Thompson, the U.S. Air Force Tanker Program Executive Officer and KC-46 Program Director, saying "Boeing continues to make good progress toward delivering the KC-46 Tanker on schedule."
Boeing is scheduled to deliver the first 18 tankers to start replacing the aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet in 2017. The next major milestone for the tanker program arrives in 2013 with the Critical Design Review.
Air Force leaders commended the tanker program at the Air Force Association's annual conference in September for the pivot it has made from being seen as a service embarrassment to a highly regarded acquisition program with its fixed-price contract.
In fact, the Defense Department tapped former tanker program director, Air Force Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, to take over the F-35 program and he's already started to shake things up.
Of course, the progress seen with the tanker program is put at risk by the threat of sequestration and the $500 billion cut to planned defense spending if Congress can't come to a deficit reduction agreement by Jan. 2. Thompson said the Air Force could lose its fixed price contract as sequestration would force the military to re-negotiate many of its contracts.
New Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh remains focused on the tanker. He listed it as one of his top three modernization programs along with the long range bomber and the F-35.