The Air Force has stopped accepting deliveries of Boeing Co.’s new refueling tanker aircraft for the second time in a month because of debris found in closed compartments, according to Secretary Heather Wilson.
The halt in deliveries of the KC-46A Pegasus is the latest issue to plague the $44 billion effort to create the first U.S.-built flying gas station for the Pentagon’s fleet since the KC-10A Extender in 1981.
“We actually stopped again,” Wilson said Tuesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Wilson told lawmakers that the Air Force found “foreign object debris” in closed compartments of the aircraft.
Elaborating on the trash left behind by workers, Wilson told the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee later in the day that it was a “manufacturing discipline” issue on the assembly line where “we saw a breakdown.”
“If you drop a wrench you have to find a wrench,” she said. “You have to wipe down surfaces so you don’t have pieces of aluminum that over time get in the midst of things and cause serious problems.”
The latest delivery halt was prompted after the service opened up some closed compartments, such as inside wings, and found flaws, she said without elaborating.
The decision to halt acceptance of the tankers was made on March 23, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an email.
The first two KC-46 tankers were sent to a U.S. Air Force base in Kansas in January, more than two and a half years later than originally scheduled.
Uncertainty remains over the next steps in the program, including the delivery of a batch of 18 planes, two spare engines and nine sets of wing-mounted refueling pods. Those were all initially due in August 2017, but final delivery could slip by more than three years, according to the Defense Contract Management Agency.
“Resolving this issue is a company and program priority –- we are committed to delivering” debris-free aircraft, Charles Ramey, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, said in an email. “Although we’ve made improvements to date, we can do better.”