Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall has approved the KC-46A Pegasus program for low rate initial production (LRIP), according to a U.S. Air Force news release. The first two LRIP lots are expected to be awarded within 30 days.
“I commend the team for diligently working through some difficult technical challenges,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “The KC-46 program has made significant strides in moving the Air Force toward the modernization needed in our strategic tanker fleet.”
The new Air Force tanker was required to complete a series of flight tests and aerial refueling of several different aircraft from the Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps, including the F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, A-10, and C-17. The KC-46A also demonstrated its capability to take on fuel itself, receiving fuel from a KC-10 Extender. The C-17 refueling test was delayed due to adjustments needed on the KC-46’s boom, which was experiencing higher than expected axial loads due to turbulence created by the two large aircraft being in close proximity to each other. Boeing installed hydraulic pressure relief valves to alleviate the loads and the testing was completed successfully.
“The KC-46 is ready to take the next step,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “Our Air Force and Boeing team stepped up to meet the recent challenges. I’m especially proud of the employees on the floor of the Boeing plant and employees of all our industry partners, who work every day to deliver game-changing capability to the warfighter. My hat’s off to them and our program leads.”
The first two lots are for 19 aircraft as well as spare parts, for a total of $2.8 billion.
“I am exceedingly proud of the KC-46 program office for clearing the production hurdle,” said Air Force service acquisition executive Darlene Costello. “We have crossed an important milestone, and I appreciate Boeing’s continued focus as they work to finish development prior to first aircraft delivery.”
While LRIP has been approved, flight testing, including certifying refueling capability for the remaining aircraft in the DOD inventory, will continue. The aircraft could also suffer delays or worse should congress fail to pass a defense budget or pass yet another continuing resolution.