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KC-46 Pegasus Tanker Replacement

The KC-46A is intended to replace the U.S. Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers which has been the primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. With more refueling capacity and enhanced capabilities, improved efficiency and increased capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation, the KC-46A will provide aerial refueling support to the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps as well as allied nation coalition force aircraft.

The KC-46 tanker modernization program, valued at $52 billion, is the Air Forces highest acquisition priority and recently completed its second year in development to convert a commercial derivative aircraft into an aerial refueling tanker. Aerial refueling the transfer of fuel from airborne tankers to combat and airlift forces is critical to the U.S. militarys ability to project power overseas and to effectively operate within a combat theater. It enables military aircraft to fly further, stay airborne longer, and carry more weapons, equipment, and supplies than unrefueled forces.

KC-46 aircraft are expected to replace about two-fifths of the KC-135 Stratotanker fleet, currently the mainstay of the US large tanker force. This force is now over 50 years old on average and costs increasingly more to maintain and support, with additional concerns that age-related problems could potentially ground the fleet. Consequently, the Air Force plans to develop, test, and field 18 KC-46 tankers by August 2017, and eventually have a total of 179 aircraft by 2027.

The KC-46A will be able to refuel any fixed-wing receiver capable aircraft on any mission. This aircraft is equipped with a modernized KC-10 refueling boom integrated with proven fly-by-wire control system and delivering a fuel offload rate required for large aircraft. In addition, the hose and drogue system adds additional mission capability that is independently operable from the refueling boom system.

Two high-bypass turbofans, mounted under 34-degree swept wings, power the KC-46A to takeoff at gross weights up to 415,000 pounds. Nearly all internal fuel can be pumped through the boom, drogue and wing aerial refueling pods. The centerline drogue and wing aerial refueling pods are used to refuel aircraft fitted with probes. All aircraft will be configured for the installation of a multipoint refueling system.

MPRS configured aircraft will be capable of refueling two receiver aircraft simultaneously from special "pods" mounted under the wing. One crewmember known as the boom operator controls the boom, centerline drogue, and wing refueling pods during refueling operations. This new tanker utilizes an advanced KC-10 boom, a center mounted drogue and wing aerial refueling pods allowing it to refuel multiple types of receiver aircraft as well as foreign national aircraft on the same mission.

A cargo deck above the refueling system can accommodate a mix load of passengers, patients and cargo. The KC-46A can carry up to 18 463L cargo pallets. Seat tracks and the onboard cargo handling system make it possible to simultaneously carry palletized cargo, seats, and patient support pallets in a variety of combinations. The new tanker aircraft offers significantly increased cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities.

The aircrew compartment includes 15 permanent seats for aircrew which includes permanent seating for the aerial refueling operator and an aerial refueling instructor. Panoramic displays giving the ARO wing-tip to wing-tip situational awareness.

The KC-46 programs acquisition strategy is to convert a commercial Boeing 767 airframe into a militarized aerial refueling tanker in two phases. In the first, Boeing is modifying their 767 airframe with a cargo door and an advanced flight deck display borrowed from the new Boeing 787 aircraft and calling this modified version the 767-2C. In the second, the 767-2C airframe will be further militarized by adding the air refueling capabilities, an air refueling operator station that includes panoramic three-dimensional displays, and threat detection and avoidance systems.

The KC-46 tanker is expected to be more capable than the KC-135 it replaces in several respects. It will have a modernized KC-10 tanker refueling boom integrated with a fly-by-wire (computer assisted) control system and a permanent hose and drogue refueling system that enables both types of refueling to be employed on the same mission. The KC-135 has to land and switch equipment to transition from one mode to another. Also, the KC-46 is expected to be able to refuel in a variety of night-time and covert mission settings and will have countermeasures to protect it against infrared missile threats. Designed with more refueling capacity, improved efficiency, and increased cargo and medical evacuation capabilities than its predecessor, the KC-46 is intended to provide aerial refueling to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and allied aircraft.

The KC-46A Pegasus program received Milestone C approval from Frank Kendall, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, signaling the aircraft is ready to enter into production. Work was underway to award the first two low rate initial production lots within the next 30 days. "I commend the team for diligently working through some difficult technical challenges," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said 12 August 2016. "The KC-46 program has made significant strides in moving the Air Force toward the modernization needed in our strategic tanker fleet." Securing approval to begin low rate initial production required completion of several aerial refueling demonstrations, to include refueling an F-16 Fighting Falcon, C-17 Globemaster III and A-10 Thunderbolt II off the boom, and an AV-8 Harriar II and F/A-18 Hornet off both hose and drogue systems. The KC-46 also proved its receiver capability by taking fuel from a KC-10 Extender.

The first aircraft deliveries will be to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, and Altus AFB, Oklahoma. A total of 18 tankers are scheduled to be delivered by early 2018.



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