Aug. 18, 2015, (c) Leeham Co. The US Air Force should not proceed with a decision giving Boeing the go-ahead for low-rate production on the KC-46A tanker “before it has adequate knowledge that
the KC-46A can perform its aerial refueling mission,” the Government Accountability Office said in an April report.
This was before the latest delays, the impact of which remains undetermined, resulting from Boeing inserting the wrong chemical through a test KC-46A’s fueling system. The Seattle Times reported a vendor mislabeled the chemical. Boeing had already eaten up development margin in the timeline. When the GAO issued its April report, one of its periodic reviews of the program, the flight testing schedule had already been compressed to a mere three months before the low-rate production decision is due in October.
The flight testing is already running eight months behind schedule.
“Boeing is at risk of not meeting the entrance criteria needed to support the projected October 2015 low-rate production decision,” the GAO wrote in April, “and will have less knowledge about the reliability of the aircraft than originally planned. The small schedule margin that was built into the program has eroded….”
“…[T]he department must be case not to hold the low-rate production decision and award a production contract before it has adequate knowledge that the KC-46A can perform its aerial refueling mission,” the GAO wrote.
In the April GAO report, the agency noted that Boeing had completed only 3.5 hours of flight testing during one test flight of the 767-2C, the pre-cursor of the first actual KC-46A, fully equipped with the fueling system. The KC-46A still hasn’t flown–in part due to the chemical issues cited above. By then, the program should have had 400 hours of flight testing. A total of 2,400 hours of flight testing was originally planned by the time the low-rate production decision was due, originally this month.
“Under the revised schedule, Boeing will now complete roughly 22% of the development flight testing prior to the low-rate production decision compared to its original plan of 66 percent, providing DOD [the Department of Defense] with less flight test knowledge at this program milestone,” the GAO wrote in April, before the latest incident. “In addition, only three months will be on a KC-46 prior to the decision compared to the original plan of 13 months.”
The GAO wrote that Boeing originally would have completed 36 months of flight testing using four developmental aircraft before the low-rate production decision. Only the 767-2C has flown to date.
The original plan would have also included aerial refueling demonstration flights that are “entrance criteria.” “During these flights, Boeing and the Air Force must demonstrate that the KC-46A can refuel five different receiver aircraft, as well as function as a receiver aircraft in a refueling operation,” the GAO wrote.
Boeing won the tanker competition after 10 years, one deal (the leasing of 100 KC-767s to the USAF) vitiated by Congress and the second, an award to Northrop Grumman and EADS for the Airbus KC-330 MRTT, thrown out because the USAF changed the rules of the game without tellling Boeing. Boeing won the third round on a Technically Acceptable, Lowest Price competition in which its bid was 10% less than the EADS submission (Northrop dropped out of the third round).
“EADS,” as the Airbus parent was then known, “made two bold claims during the competition. We said that if we won we would build a manufacturing facility to produce planes in Alabama, and we said that if we won we’d be refueling U.S. aircraft sooner than the 767 ever could. We lost, but we’ve still managed to do the two things we said would only happen if we won, an Airbus Group spokesman wrote to Leeham News in an email Aug. 11. “A330 MRTTs began refueling U.S. combat aircraft in August 2014, with the RAF. The Royal Australian Air Force followed shortly thereafter (September or October I believe). Other allies have followed suit.”
Washington State’s Fairchild Air Force Base bypassed a second time
Separately, last April the USAF announced its second round of potential bases for the early groups of the operational KC-46A squadrons. For the second time, Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane (WA) was bypassed. Spokane has long been the base for the Boeing KC-135 tankers.
Washington State is where the KC-46A is being assembled. The State’s Congressional delegation waged an aggressive campaign on Boeing’s behalf to win the tanker contract.
The Air Force named Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma; Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina; Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts; and Grissom ARB, Indiana are candidate bases for the first Air Force Reserve-led KC-46A Pegasus locations.
“The Reserve-led KC-46A preferred and reasonable alternatives and begin the Environmental Impact Analysis Process (EIAP) in the summer of 2015,” reported the US Air Force.
The USAF told Leeham News yesterday that “the reserve candidate basing decision will be announced in the next few months. Active duty candidate bases will be considered again in the future. McConnell Air Force Base, KS, will be the first active duty-led Pegasus main operating base and will begin receiving aircraft in fiscal year 2016. Following rounds of KC-46A basing will remain largely consistent with previous rounds and criteria will be determined and announced at least three years prior to aircraft arrival. By 2028, the Air Force expects to base KC-46As at one formal training unit and up to 10 main operating bases. Under current plans, tanker units not selected for Pegasus basing will continue to perform their current missions. The Air Force uses its strategic basing process when making basing decisions. Each decision takes an “enterprise-wide look” as it evaluates potential basing locations.”