In an agreement worth over $2.1 billion the U.S. Department of Defense has issued a modification to its contract with Boeing to increase the number of KC-46A tanker aircraft on order for the United States Air Force by another fifteen aircraft.
The KC-46 is a multirole tanker designed to refuel allied and coalition military aircraft. To meet this requirement, it is fitted with both the USAF’s boom system and more common drogue equipment which is used by the US Navy and many NATO countries designs. It can also carry passengers, cargo and patients.
The new order is for the seventh production lot of the new aircraft, which now means a total of 94 are on contract for delivery. Based on Boeing’s 767 airliner, the KC-46 was initially ordered in 2011, to fulfil the USAFs KC-X requirement for a new tanker to replace the venerable KC-135s that have met the USAFs aerial refuelling since they entered service in 1957. The USAF has a requirement for 179 of the new tankers to partially replace the older KC-135s still in service.
However, the KC-46 has been beset with problems. Intended to be initially delivered in 2016, the USAF did not receive its first KC-46 until 2019. As well as coming in extremely late on its expected in service schedule, the aircraft then suffered issues on quality control that saw deliveries delayed again.
With this new contract it is to be hoped that the problems with the aircraft have been resolved. This latest order comes only weeks after the sixth lot of 12 aircraft was ordered, indicating that the DOD and USAF are now extremely keen to get the KC-46s into service in numbers as soon as possible.