Boeing has won a $184 million contract from the USAF to upgrade the communication systems on the KC-46A. According to Boeing, the upgrades will include line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight communications technologies with anti-jamming and encryption features. These features will improve the situational awareness, security and interoperability of the KC-46A crew and their mission partners.
The KC-46A Pegasus is a multirole tanker aircraft that can refuel both US and allied military aircraft, as well as carry passengers, cargo and medical evacuation missions. The aircraft is based on the Boeing 767 commercial airliner and is manufactured by Boeing on its 767 production line in Everett, Washington.
The US Air Force (USAF) has ordered 128 KC-46A tankers from Boeing, of which 69 have been delivered as of April 2023. The KC-46A has also been selected by Japan and Israel as their next-generation tanker aircraft. Japan has ordered six KC-46A tankers, of which two have been delivered, and Israel has ordered eight KC-46A tankers, of which none have been delivered yet.
The KC-46A is designed to integrate cutting-edge capabilities into its platform, such as advanced avionics, self-protection systems, aerial refueling systems and communications systems. However, the KC-46A has also faced several technical challenges and delays during its development and delivery, such as problems with its remote vision system (RVS), refueling boom, cargo locks and fuel leaks.
Boeing vice president and KC-46 program manager James Burgess said: “This upgrade demonstrates long-term investment from Boeing and the Air Force. The KC-46A is built to integrate cutting-edge capabilities directly into the DNA of the aircraft as the needs of the mission evolve.”
The KC-46A is expected to play a vital role in the USAF’s tanker fleet for decades to come, as well as support the air refueling needs of US allies and partners around the world. The KC-46A is also seen as a stepping stone to the Next Generation Air-refueling System (NGARS), which is a future stealthy tanker that will be able to operate in contested environments.
The KC-46A Pegasus is a new multi-role tanker aircraft developed by Boeing for the United States Air Force (USAF) and its allies. It is based on the Boeing 767 commercial airliner, but with significant modifications to enable it to perform aerial refueling, cargo transport, and aeromedical evacuation missions. The KC-46A is designed to replace the aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which have been in service since the 1950s.
The KC-46A offers several advantages over the KC-135, such as:
- Increased fuel capacity: The KC-46A can carry up to 212,299 pounds (96,297 kilograms) of fuel, compared to 203,000 pounds (92,079 kilograms) for the KC-135. This allows it to refuel more aircraft or fly longer distances without refueling itself.
- Improved refueling systems: The KC-46A has both a boom and a drogue system to refuel different types of aircraft. The boom can transfer up to 1,200 gallons (4,542 liters) of fuel per minute, while the drogue can transfer up to 400 gallons (1,514 liters) per minute. The KC-46A can also refuel two aircraft simultaneously using its wing air refueling pods (WARPs).
- Enhanced situational awareness: The KC-46A features a state-of-the-art cockpit with a large display that shows flight information, mission data, and video feeds from cameras mounted on the fuselage and the boom. The KC-46A also has a remote vision system (RVS) that allows the boom operator to control the boom from a workstation in the rear of the aircraft, using 3D imagery and augmented reality.
- Increased cargo and passenger capacity: The KC-46A can carry up to 65,000 pounds (29,484 kilograms) of cargo or up to 114 passengers in its main deck. It can also accommodate up to 58 aeromedical patients on stretchers or 18 on intensive care units. The KC-46A has a large cargo door and a powered cargo loader to facilitate loading and unloading operations.
- Modernized avionics and communications: The KC-46A has a digital flight control system, a fly-by-wire boom control system, and an advanced self-protection suite. It also has secure and interoperable communications systems that allow it to communicate with other aircraft, ground stations, and satellites.
The KC-46A is expected to be a game-changer for the USAF and its allies, as it will provide them with greater flexibility, reliability, and survivability in various scenarios. The KC-46A will be able to operate in contested environments, support joint and coalition operations, and extend the range and endurance of other aircraft.
The USAF plans to acquire 179 KC-46As by 2027, with the first delivery taking place in January 2019. Japan is the first international customer for the KC-46A, having ordered four aircraft in 2015. Other potential customers include Israel, South Korea, NATO, and Australia.
The KC-46A represents the future of aerial refueling capability for the joint force. It is a versatile and powerful platform that will enhance the effectiveness of airpower across the spectrum of operations.