Although Boeing still expects to meet the August 2017 deadline to deliver 18 KC-46A tankers, it’s possible the company might miss the target by four months, according to the Government Accountability Office. While fewer than expected engineering changes reduced the total estimated cost of the program by seven percent from $51.7 billion to $48.2 billion, development problems—wiring issues, an aerial refueling system redesign, and a fuel contamination—extended testing and delivery schedules, the GAO found in an April 8 report. The new schedule is compressed and leaves little room for any new problems and the needed part testing. The report noted, “… any future delays may affect Boeing’s ability to deliver all 18 operational aircraft by August 2017, but that risk is being measured in months rather than years.” Boeing now plans to deliver two reconfigured development aircraft along with 16 production aircraft—two more than originally planned—to the Air Force in the six months prior to August 2017. To meet the deadline, Boeing is building low-rate initial production aircraft with its own resources, planning to open a second finishing center to militarize 767-2Cs, and trying to increase testing efficiency. (See also: Tanker Time is Tight from the February issue of Air Force Magazine and KC-46 Boom Testing Delayed.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.