Additional Delays for the KC-46 | Citizens Against Government Waste

Additional Delays for the KC-46

The WasteWatcher

One of the more troubled Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition platforms faces yet another delay.

Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on March 4, 2020, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein stated that a solution to the ongoing problems with the KC-46’s Remote Vision System (RVS) will be delayed by an additional year at the minimum.  Last year, DOD officials estimated that a fix would be in place by 2022 or 2023, meaning problems with the RVS, which allows users to guide the tanker’s refueling boom to the second aircraft, may not be addressed until 2023 or 2024.  The Air Force is currently negotiating with Boeing, the maker of the KC-46, to fix the problem.

Expect to read about further interruptions in the program down the line as it will take additional time to retrofit the KC-46s that have already been delivered by the contractor once the RVS’ problems are solved.

The delays in the KC-46 will have a knock-on effect.  When postponements have cropped up in other aircraft acquisition programs, the Pentagon has been forced to outlay extra funding to retrofit or replace older generation aircraft that were meant to be retired.  For instance, lengthy delays in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program precipitated the Air Force announcing on March 18, 2019 a plan to purchase 80 F-15Xs, an upgraded version of one of the aircraft meant to be replaced by the F-35.

The DOD now faces a similar crunch with the KC-46.  In its fiscal year 2021 budget request, the Air Force planned to retire 29 older generation tankers, including 16 KC-10s and 13 KC-135s.  However, the ongoing problems with the KC-46 have raised concern over a possible readiness and capability gap.  As a result, the service may be forced to continue utilizing older aircraft, driving up costs.

According to Secretary Goldfein, “…I did have a follow up conversation with the [Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun] and I told him that not only the quality of a serious hardware fix is important, but also time, because the longer we wait to get that operational, the longer we’re having to extend KC-135s, KC-10s, and it just continues to add up.”

While fielding newer, more advanced platforms to replace older equipment has always been tricky, the Air Force’s track record in recent years has been remarkably poor.  The KC-46 serves as a yet another prime example for the necessity of DOD acquisition reform.

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