Why is America’s long-range combat capability suddenly weakened?

The US Air Force’s long-range operations were significantly affected after the KC-46A refueling fleet experienced many failures when it entered service, while other types of refueling aircraft were running low of life.

On June 16, 2021 the US Air Force’s Center for Life Cycle Management (LCMF)  issued a notice to find suppliers for a new refueling aircraft program, requiring the aircraft models participating in the bidding to be based on the design. Civil Aircraft.

KC-46 Tanker
KC-46A Tanker

“The requirements for this project are still under construction and will be included in the complete US Department of Defense tender notice. We have no plans to equip it with stealth or unmanned capabilities. “, the LCMF statement reads.

The announcement was made in the context of Boeing Corporation having just handed over the 46th KC-46A refueling aircraft to the US Air Force. This force is expected to order a total of 179 KC-46A aircraft in 13 batches, of which the last batch will be signed in 2027 and delivered in next two years.

The KC-46A is expected to partially replace the fleet of 400 KC-135 aircraft, which entered service in 1957 and the latest one has been in service for 56 years.

The KC-135 squadron is constantly being upgraded to ensure the service of the US Air Force, but the maintenance process is increasingly getting expensive and expensive, in the long run, this will be a cost burden for the US Air Force.

KC135 refueling Tanker
KC135 refueling Tanker

The squadron of 59 KC-10A tankers, commissioned by the US Air Force in the 1980s, has also begun to retire the oldest aircraft.
So the burden was on the KC-46As, but their unstable performance made the US air force officers worried about their long-range combat capabilities. Boeing’s first KC-46A planes were delivered in January 2020, which is two years later than originally planned.

“The KC-46A allows us to expand our range. We need more KC-46A because it will help our fighters and bombers to reach the area. specially remote areas,” the US Air Force personal answered when receiving the first KC-46A.

The KC-46A Pegasus is the most modern American refueling aircraft in the world. However, due to the application of too many advanced techniques, the US will need a long time to calibrate for these aircraft to be able to reach the highest performance.

The technical failure mainly revolved around the remote-controlled pump system, making it unreliable enough to do the key task of refueling in the air.

The Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General in May released a report criticizing the US Air Force’s mismanagement in the process of developing the KC-46A series’ feature requirements and approving the design proposed by Boeing.

The poor quality of construction also caused this force to repeatedly refuse to receive the aircraft, while Boeing in January admitted that the KC-46A project had been overpriced by more than 5 billion USD.

The KC-46A applies many of the latest aeronautical engineering advances to its manufacturing, such as a refueling control system displayed on high-resolution LCD screens, capable of refueling even in the dark night.

KC-46A Pegasus can carry up to 96 tons of fuel enough to fuel both fighter squadrons and strategic bombers in one takeoff. In addition, when necessary, the KC-46A is also capable of removing the fuel tank to convert it into a conventional military transport aircraft.

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