Sunday, January 17, 2016

Giving The KC-46 The Bidness has summarized the KC-46 program's history aptly. It is time to copy and paste its article to the blog, because it covers and encapsulates so much of the program history. It is a link worthy article, but not without some Winging It oversight first. The much disputed Tanker competition has reached a climax, before it starts matriculation into the military bases. The cost and the efficiency has finally sorted out for the KC-46. What awaits is its operational trial, coming from the ground up with military gloves. The KC-46 Pegasus is first going base-wide for ten stations to places like McConnell Air Force base.

Perhaps the fixed cost program is the way to go. However, it was constrained by the caveat, a commercial airframe was the starting point. This little nuance really affected and enhanced keeping a lid on the project costs. The F-35 and the LRB projects will not be so lucky. They need a military compliant design features from scratch paper. A daunting and costly invisible ceiling exists, which ultimately dictates how many LRB's will be built. The F-35 is too far down the road to turn back from constraining it with an F-22 limit for 179 of its type built. The F-22 has been recognized as a fighter in need, and the US Air Force needs more of its type and it will not (never) receive those extra F-22's.

Boeing Co.’s (NYSE:BA) KC-46 Pegasus tanker, the replacement for the aging KC-135 Stratotanker, is designed to aid the US Air Force as well as foreign allies during warfare. The winner of the KC-X program is expected to enter service by 2018, with the first operational aircraft poised to be delivered in 2017.

KC-X Project History

The KC-X program invited aircraft manufacturers to provide the military with 179 tankers by 2027, with the contract worth approx. $35 billion. The proposal request was issued in January 2007. Besides Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Airbus (at the time known as EADS) jointly bid for the project with their A330 Multi-role Tanker Transport (MRTT).
The Northrop Grumman offer was selected in February 2008. However, Boeing challenged the decision and lodged a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO reversed the decision in June, leading to the Air Force reopening the bidding process a month later. By September 2009, the military was ready to accept new proposals, leading to both competitors renewing their offers.
In March 2010, Northrop pulled out of the bidding process, while EADS elected to remain in the competition. Eventually, in February next year, the Air Force named Boeing the winner.

KC-46 Development

The development of KC-46 was marred with multiple delays and cost hikes with every passing year. In 2011, development costs were calculated to be $300 million above the cost cap of $4.9 billion. By 2014, the figure had risen to $5.85 billion, and in 2015, it stood at $43.16 billion, compared to $35 billion estimated earlier.
Boeing was hit twice with pre-tax charges of $272 million and $835 million, respectively, during the aircraft’s development. The $272 million charge was over redesigning of the wiring on the tanker, as the wires were fixed in close proximity and were improperly shielded, not meeting Air Force’s specs related to redundancy. The second charge was due to redeveloping of the integrated fuel system; many of the fuel components did not meet standards of production.
Initial assembly on the first KC-46 began on June 28, 2013. On December 28, 2014 the first test plane without any military and refueling equipment underwent a successful test flight, followed by a completely equipped KC-46 undergoing its first test flight on September 25, 2015. In November, the plane began its initial tests to get certified for air-to-air refueling, which it successfully passed.

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KC-46 Features

The KC-46 is based on the KC-767-200 Long Range Freighter, with an enhanced version of the KC-10’s refueling boom as well as cockpit displays from the 787, which allow for night vision compatibility as well as plug and play consoles that can be switched around. Aspects of the 787, such as improved technologies used in manufacturing the craft as well as improved electronics, were also borrowed.
The tanker is expected to refuel all fixed-wing aircraft from domestic military services as well as foreign partners. Power will be provided by two Pratt & Whitney PW4062 turbofan engines, with 63,300 pounds of thrust each. The plane has a seating capability for 15 personnel, including the standard crew of three: the pilot, co-pilot, and boom operator.
The jet craft can carry 114 passengers if required, though 58 is the standard number. It can also serve as a flying hospital with a little reconfiguration. In an aeromedical evacuation operation, the plane can accommodate 58 patients; however, six patients may still be housed in a regular mission. The main difference between this aircraft and a KC-767 is the additional refueling and electronics technologies added to the plane at a separate facility at Boeing.
The KC-46 can carry 212,000 pounds of fuel — a 10% increase compared to the KC-135 — of which about 208,000 pounds are transferrable. It can carry 65,000 pounds of cargo in 18 different pallet positions. The maximum weight the plane is able to carry during takeoff is 415,000 pounds. Range-wise, the plane can reach any point in the globe due to aerial refueling, but on a single tank it can fly 6,385 nautical miles. The maximum height it can reach is 40,100 feet.
The jet tanker has multiple refueling systems: a probe and drogue refueling system, as well as a boom and receptacle system allowing for a variety of refueling missions to be executed in a single operation. A change from previously operated boom and receptacle systems is that, instead of utilizing a “boom pod,” which provides visual line-of-sight, the Pegasus will use a 3D video system for control.
The plane is able to refuel three different types of aircraft simultaneously due to its fuel transfer system. It is also capable of conducting limited electronic warfare, and has protection against heat-seeking missiles with a radar warning receiver as standard. The AN/ALR-69A(V) Radar Warning Receiver is provided by Raytheon, and the AN/AAQ-24(V) Directional Infrared Countermeasure system is provided by Northrop Grumman.

KC-46 Future Operations

Initial operations will begin at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, where 36 tankers are expected to be based next year. As the fleet grows, the number of worldwide bases that will host the aircraft is expected to increase to 10. Training for the crew has already begun at Altus Air Force Base located in Oklahoma.
The KC-46 so far has found only one foreign customer. Japan’s military has ordered three aircraft for delivery in 2020, at a unit cost of $173 million. The plane was bid for two other contracts (Polish and Korean Air Force), but lost both times to the Airbus A330 MRTT.