The remaining deficiencies plaguing the KC-46 tanker are a tale of two problems: a simple hardware fix that should be done on a short schedule and a complex software fix that will likely take more time to address.
The Air Force recently accepted the first KC-46s, including four assigned to McConnell AFB, Kan., and two more expected to arrive at Altus AFB, Okla., on Friday, despite three outstanding deficiencies on the refueling system. Two issues are with the camera and sensors in the new remote vision system. Under certain circumstances, the boom operator’s view of refueling could be impaired, and operators in testing at times couldn’t tell if the boom was scraping a receiving aircraft. The last deficiency is with the boom itself. Lighter and slower aircraft, such as the A-10, could not safely disconnect after refueling. The Air Force said Boeing’s design does meet the contractual requirement, so the service will cover the cost of the final fix.
Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told reporters Wednesday the problem with the boom system is “simple,” and only requires replacing an actuator in the boom, something the Air Force has done before.
Getting to a “yes” on delivery for the aircraft required determining a way forward on the deficiencies, and the Air Force was able to separate the boom problem from the remote vision system, he said. The program office is now working through a cost estimate and a schedule for the actuator fix.
However, the problem with the remote vision system “is new for us,” Roper said. For months, a team of Air Force scientists, acquisition officials, and Boeing engineers have worked to determine a measurable fix that will be addressed through software and hardware changes, he said. This team has set a list of nine critical performance parameters to meet to ensure the remote vision system will meet the Air Force’s requirement.
“We have a lot of work to do on RVS,” Roper said. “There is still design work to do—hardware and software to meet those nine critical performance parameters—so we will keep a lot of technical focus on that.”