Gen. Norton Schwartz, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, often cites the KC-46 air refueling aircraft as one of his top priorities. But now questions are being raised about the cost of the new tanker.
After more than a decade of efforts to develop a new refueler to replace the geriatric KC-135 Stratotanker, Boeing now warns that it will exceed by as much as $500 million the cost ceiling on its contract to develop the KC-46A, a derivative of the Boeing 767 airliner. Under the terms of its fixed-price contract, the planemaker may be required to absorb costs that exceed the program’s $4.8 billion ceiling.
The higher price estimate was inadvertently made public in a 37-page Selected Acquisition Report, the Pentagon’s first review of costs for its planned fleet of 179 tankers, consisting of four developmental airframes and 175 operational aircraft. Industry and Pentagon officials are huddling to discuss the cost issue.
So far, the KC-46A faces no known technical concerns. Boeing says it is “on track” to assemble seven KC-46As in 2015, 12 in 2016, and 15 a year annually thereafter.