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KC-135R Stratotanker

KC-135R Multi-Point Refueling System Program

The Multi-Point Refueling System Program is an effort to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of the Air Force’s air refueling fleet, 45 KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft are being outfitted to accept wing-tip, hose-and-drogue and air refueling pods for refueling NATO and US Navy aircraft. US Navy and many NATO aircraft cannot be refueled using the boom and receptacle refueling method of Air Force aircraft, and instead use a probe-and-drogue system where probes on the receiver aircraft make contact with a hose that is reeled out behind a tanker aircraft. KC-135s have been capable of refueling probe-and-drogue aircraft for years, by fitting a hose-and-drogue attachment to a tanker's refueling boom. However, when tankers are flying with this configuration they are incapable of refueling boom-and-receptacle aircraft. With the number of worldwide joint and combined military operations on the rise, the Department of Defense directed the Air Force to outfit part of its KC-135 fleet with the capability of refueling both probe-and-drogue and boom receptacle aircraft on the same mission. This also allows refueling up to two probe-and-drogue aircraft at the same time.

The pods themselves are very similar to the wing pods that were added to KC-10 Extenders, Reed said. They contain a collapsible, funnel-shaped drogue on the end of a hose that can be reeled out to an awaiting aircraft with a refueling probe. The hose is connected with a spring to provide constant tension, and the drogue is outfitted with small lights around it to aid night operations.Additional fuel controls, indicators, and circuit breakers must be installed in the flight deck. Modifications to valves and a bladder cell in the fuselage are also necessary. Tubes, valves, and a vent system must be modified in the wing fuel system to accommodate the new system. The wings themselves must be modified, as well. They must be strengthened to support new fuel tubes and wire bundles being installed on the aircraft. For installation of the pods, hardpoints, fittings, and pylons must be installed. Floodlights are being added to engine pylons, wing pods, and boom area to assist in night refueling. An aerial refueling pod controller will be added to the boom operator's station, so boom operators, in conjunction with the copilot, can monitor wing-pod refueling.

Thirty-three pod sets are being manufactured to outfit 45 KC-135R aircraft. The pods can be moved from one wing-pod-outfitted tanker to another, thereby remaining mission-ready, even when a particular aircraft is not. Managed by the KC-135 Development System Office at Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, tte program completed the engineering, manufacturing and development portion of the program in 1998 year and began follow-on operational test and evaluation early in 1999. The program includes an installation rate of about six aircraft per year, and initial operational capability in February 2000 with 12 aircraft. Six of these aircraft will be stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., and six will be stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. All 45 aircraft are expected to be operational by September 2008. The 45 modified Stratotankers are to be assigned to active units at McConnell and Grand Forks air force bases; MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.; Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.; guard and reserve bases at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.; and overseas at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and Royal Air Force Mildenhall, in the United Kingdom.

By 2020 there were 20-KC-135s modified with the wing-mounted pods known as Multipoint Refueling System (MPRS) Pods, for refueling operations with Navy and Marine Corps and NATO aircraft. AATC planned on modifying two additional ARC owned KC-135s using the MPRS outer mold-line pods with an internal open-architecture to additional space for a host of defensive technologies. The KC-135 open-architecture pod, tentatively called the Gladiator Pod, is expected to be equipped on a few KC-135 aircraft by fiscal year 2023 for flight testing. AATC planned on equipping the pod with the necessary sensors capable of detecting, identifying, tracking, and defending as a data node within Advanced Battle Management System [ABMS].

The Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS, allows a joint force to use cutting-edge methods and technologies to rapidly collect, analyze, and share information and make decisions in real-time. Since 2018, the Utah Air National Guard has worked with the KC-135 Program Office, Collins Aerospace and Borsight in the development and installation of situational awareness building technologies. The RTIC adds Link 16, Situational Awareness Datalink (SADL) and Secure Beyond Line of Sight communications to the aircraft.

In July, 2020, the Utah Air National Guard’s 151st Air Refueling Wing upgraded the first KC-135 in the Air Force inventory with NATO-Standard Link 16 communication capabilities as part of its real-time information in the cockpit system (RTIC), bringing the aircraft into the 21st century and revolutionizing the tanker’s role in combat. KC-135 crews will have the ability to make better informed decisions and communicate more effectively with their receiver aircraft, who have been equipped with a tactical data link since the early 1990s, changing the way we [KC-135] operate and provide combat effect.

The ‘Gladiator pod’ is three to four times larger than any pod our fighter aircraft uses, which is why the KC-135 is well-suited for this mission. With these modifications, the KC-135 will be able to act as a data node and host within ABMS while also having the ability to protect the tanker with limited fighter support. In order to meet the demands of a changing world, it was necessary to adapt the KC-135 with technology that is flying on Combat Air Forces aircraft and even on the KC-135. Utilizing the outer mold line of the MPRS pod, we can rapidly integrate modular and adaptive communication, defensive, and sensor technologies on the KC-135.

The goal is for the KC-135 to act as a data repository for all air, land, sea, space and cyber players using AI to fuse and correlate data into a cohesive picture. Planned upgrades to the KC-135 that will enable air refueling include integrating a digital backbone, hardpoints and antenna upgrades.

Page last modified: 01-07-2021 17:55:15 Zulu