The Air Force’s KC-46A program is unlike any other aerial refueling aircraft in the US inventory and will be a highly capable air asset when deployed in the fleet, the program’s manager told a McAleese Associates/Credit Suisse conference in Washington, D.C., March 17. From its boom operations to integrated data systems and self-protection tools laid out in its key performance parameters, the KC-46 when operational is anticipated to be a “sixth [generation] air refueler,” said Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson, the program executive officer for tanker programs at USAF’s Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. He noted all KC-46s will have the ability to perform same sortie boom and drogue operations in a “very flexible configuration,” while only 25 KC-135s have the ability to perform same sortie operations. Five different technology labs are working on the program, assisting in the development of key capabilities such as radar warning and a new “tactical situational awareness system” to fuse different data together to take advantage of a platform that will be fully network-enabled, he added. Operators in the cockpit also will be able to do air refueling in a “lights off” scenario using innovative 3-D cameras, he noted. Flight testing of the first engineering manufacturing and development airframe is slated to begin later this spring.
Unlike nearly every other innovative technology throughout history, Maj. Gen. DeAnna M. Burt believes the space enterprise emerged backward. “Every other domain started with an entrepreneur who built something,” Burt, the special assistant to the Chief of Space Operations, told an audience at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.