The Air Force’s latest schedule for Boeing’s troubled KC-46 tanker adds as much as 11 months to start installing an improved version of its flawed camera-based refueling system, according to the service.
The added time could push completion of the improvements into fiscal 2026. “The magnitude of delay is not known, but will be less than a year,” Captain Josh Benedetti, an Air Force spokesman, said in a statement. He said a new schedule would be set by Sept. 30 after a recent “critical design review” of Boeing’s progress.
Boeing has agreed to greatly improve its Remote Vision System, 3D cameras that feed a console where an airman guides a refueling boom during the midair minuet to connect with another plane. The Air Force discovered in 2017 that shadows or the sun’s glare sometimes can hamper the system’s view, resulting in occasional scraping of planes being refueled or difficulty in performing the operation.
Boeing will continue to be responsible for the costs of fixing the camera system unless the Air Force orders changes to the design, Benedetti said. He added that possible delays stem from a combination of hardware development and the process for certifying airworthiness.
The most recent review disclosed that “to make the design effective is going to take a little longer than we expected,” Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Andrew Hunter told reporters Tuesday at a conference. There’s “no answer yet exactly on how long it’s going to be,” he said of the delay.
“In terms of cost, I’m not expecting anything shocking,” Hunter said.
The KC-46 program has been plagued with problems since Boeing won the contract for the tanker in February 2011, resulting in billions of dollars in accounting charges for the company. Other issues have included repeated problems with debris, a stiff refueling boom, fuel system leaks, issues with the flight management system and cracks in the air refueling drain tube.
Deborah VanNierop, a spokeswoman for Arlington, Virginia-based Boeing, said the company had no comment on the latest developments.
In a show of confidence, the Air Mobility Command declared last week that the tanker is now cleared to refuel 97% of the Air Force and Navy inventory, including all-stealth jets like the B-2 bomber and F-35 jet and non-stealth aircraft, except the A-10 close air support jet.
“I have 100% confidence in the KC-46’s” capability, General Mike Minihan, the command’s chief, told reporters Monday at the annual Air Force Association Air, Space & Cyber conference. “The people that fly, fix and support it, love it,” he said. “The people that refuel off it, love it.”
But he acknowledged the camera system still has to be fixed. “There’s lots of more work to do,” he said, and “I’m going to focus on the integration of all the fixes now.”
(Updates with comments from Air Force acquisition chief in fifth, six paragraphs.)
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