U.S. Transportation Command is looking to integrate the KC-46 into operations as soon as June, following Air Mobility Command’s move to free up the troubled tanker for ops to relieve stress on legacy refuelers.
TRANSCOM boss Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons recently visited KC-46 officials at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., and said he is “encouraged by recent (Air Force) efforts that will make the KC-46 available for limited mission requirements as soon as June,” the command said in a Twitter statement.
The statement is an update from Air Mobility Command’s announcement Feb. 24 that it would clear the KC-46 to be tasked by TRANSCOM this year. AMC boss Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, in announcing the step, said it would be a conditions-based process, with the aircraft only tasked with missions it has been cleared to fly in operational testing. This could include U.S.-based refueling of certain aircraft, or overseas missions to refuel deploying fighters—such as F/A-18s—using the centerline drogue system.
“We will now commit the KC-46 to execute missions similar to the ones they’ve been conducting over the past few years in the Operational Test and Evaluation plan, but can now include operational taskings from U.S. Transportation Command,” Van Ovost told reporters. “For example, today the KC-46 may provide aerial refueling for F-16s participating in a U.S.-based training exercise. Under this new approach, if AMC is tasked to provide AR support for an operational coronet mission to move F-18s overseas or an operational B-52 mission, the KC-46 is on the table, which frees up KC-135s and KC-10s to execute other combatant command deployments that the KC-46A is presently unable to support with its existing deficiencies.”
The aging KC-135s and KC-10s are heavily tasked with overseas combat deployments, along with a constant need to support training, exercises, and testing at home. By making KC-46s available to TRANSCOM, those crews would be more available for required combat missions or be able to spend more time resting and training at home. KC-46s would not be used for combat deployments until cleared after the installation of the improved remote vision system, expected to begin in 2023.
The Air Force has received 44 KC-46s, and expects to have 60 by the end of the year, as it builds to the total fleet of 179.