Pontifications: Catching up on the KC-46A, KC-30A

Hamilton KING5_2

By Scott Hamilton

April 11, 2016, © Leeham Co.: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that the Boeing KC-46A aerial refueling tanker for the US Air Force has “challenging testing and delivery schedules” ahead in its annual review of the program.

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote about aerial refueling tankers. Having delved into this topic during the long-running saga of the USAF recapitalization effort, and the competitions between Northrop Grumman/EADS and later Airbus alone and Boeing, the topic had been beaten to death.

But as we who follow such things know, Boeing’s current effort to build the winning KC-46A for the Air Force has run into more than a few problems. These have led Boeing to be at least eight months late and write off $1.2bn pre-tax on the program.

And the problems aren’t over.

Boeing KC-46A connecting to the Boeing C-17. Refueling did not occur due to technical difficulties. USAF image. Click on image to enlarge.

“KC-46 tanker aircraft acquisition cost estimates have decreased for a third consecutive year and the prime contractor, Boeing, is expected to achieve all the performance goals, such as those for air refueling and airlift capability,” the GAO writes in its latest report. The cost to the government has decreased “about 7 percent, due primarily to stable requirements that led to fewer than expected engineering changes. The fixed price development contract also protects the government from paying for any development costs above the contract ceiling price.”

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news follows.

“Boeing has a challenging road ahead to complete testing and deliver aircraft, the GAO continues. “Test officials believe Boeing’s test schedule is optimistic and it may not have all aircraft available when needed to complete planned testing. Boeing also has not gotten several key aerial refueling parts qualified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and cannot get final FAA certification of KC-46 aircraft until this occurs. Program officials estimate there are four months of schedule risk to delivering 18 aircraft by August 2017 due to testing and parts qualification issues. Boeing is working on ways to mitigate the schedule risks.

Flight Global reported last week that the Boeing KC-46A ran into trouble refueling the Boeing C-17.

According to the report, a hook-up with the refueling boom was made, but the aerodynamics were such engaging in actual refueling wasn’t achieved.

Reuters has this report of the C-17 issue.

Refueling all aircraft in the US inventory was a requirement. In addition to failure to refuel the C-17, the KC-46A as yet hasn’t refueled the A-10 Warthog.

The refueling system has been a vexing problem. Aviation Week reported last September about some of the issues, including the potential for internal leaks.

More recently, the GAO said the refueling system supplier is failing to perform as required, according to an Everett Herald report.

Boeing claimed, during the bitter competition with Airbus, that the KC-30 Airbus proposed (based on the KC-330 MRTT) couldn’t refuel the Osprey, a key point at the time.

However, Jamie Darcy, now a spokesman for Airbus Americas, said this was a misleading campaign point.

“I was V-22 Public Affairs Officer when this question first came up in the tanker competition,” Darcy wrote LNC in an email, “and when asked by (many) reporters whether either aircraft could refuel the V-22, my answer was no…but only because it had never been tested and certified. We (the V-22 program office) never offered an opinion on whether it was possible. In the case of the Boeing offering, it did not yet exist; and in the case of the Northrop Grumman offering (A330 MRTT), we had no data, nor did we (the program office, or the operators) have any need/desire to gather such data. The Marines and AFSOC used KC-130s and had expressed no desire to do otherwise.”

KC-330 MRTT/KC-30A

The Airbus KC-30A refueling the Boeing C-17 in tests over California. Photo via Defence Blog. Click on image to enlarge.

The KC-330 MRTT is also known as the KC-30A, the name the USAF gave the MRTT when Northrop Grumman/EADS won the contract in the first competitive round. (Britain calls it the Voyager.) This award was later overturned by the US Government Accountability Office after Boeing protested the USAF procurement procedure. EADS, later renamed Airbus Group, kept the name for the second competitive round, which Boeing won with the 767-200ER-based tanker, which was named the KC-46A.

The KC-30A has refueled the C-17. It’s also refueled the US-made F-18A/B/F Hornets. The tanker has been refueling aircraft involved in the fight against ISIS.

“The Airbus Multi-Role Tanker Transport first began refueling U.S. aircraft on combat missions against ISIS in September of 2014,” says Darcy. “The MRTT operators were Australia and the UAE. The US receiver aircraft included F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, and AV-8B Harriers.”

Darcy said some “receiver” aircraft have been “qualified” by air forces other than the US, but not yet by the USAF. For example, the F-15 has been qualified by the Saudis; the USAF should qualify this aircraft this summer. The Lockheed Martin C-130 has been qualified by Britain’s Royal Air Force but not yet by the USAF. Other aircraft with limited refueling receiver capabilities include the AV-8 and Rafale. Although these two and the F/A-18s have been refueled in combat operations since late 2014 against ISIS but don’t actually have full certification completed by NAVAIR and the USAF.

Fully qualified receiver aircraft include the F-15, F-16, RAAF F/A 18, the A330 MRTT buddy-to-buddy, the Tornado, Typhoon, the C-130 with select nations, the E-3D AWACS, Mirage 2000 and the 737-based Wedgetail.

Qualification for the C-17 and F-35A are underway.

Development of the Airbus tanker was not without its challenges, however. Deliveries to the Australians were late. During testing, the extendable/retractable tail boom separated from the tanker.

Airbus has 49 firm orders for the tanker from seven countries. These are South Korean, Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Contracts are pending from India (6), Qatar (2), Spain (3), and OCCAR representing Netherlands, Norway and Poland (4+). Germany has stated that it will join the OCCAR program at a later date.

The KC-46A is slated to obtain orders for 179 aircraft from the USAF. Japan, which operates four Boeing KC-767s (an early version sold only to Japan and Italy), also committed to the KC-46A.


94 Comments on “Pontifications: Catching up on the KC-46A, KC-30A

  1. The KC-330 MRTT is also known as the KC-30A, the name the USAF gave the MRTT when Northrop Grumman/EADS won the contract in the first competitive round. (Britain calls it the Voyager.)

    FWIW, the KC-30A was the name the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) gave the A330 MRTT. The name/type-designation the USAF gave the MRTT was the KC-45.

  2. Main problem for the KC-46 on international market will always the availability of 767 pilots. The 767 is mainly an US aircraft. Many A330MRTT customers also have local airlines operating A330s e.g. Singapore. Due to A350 communality the number of pilots for MRTT will even grew.

    Germany would add a need of about 2 more aircraft to OCCAR. At the moment Germany operates 4 A310MRTT but the A400M will also replace some capabilities.

      • According to the 767 flying for US carriers the 767 is an north amarican aircraft. Air Astana has 4 B767 that is that against the 767 fleets of AA, United, Air Canada (pardon), UPS, FedEx, ANA, JAL… ? Without these operators how many aircraft are left?
        (I mentioned ANA and JAL due to the fact Japan operates the KC-767 and Japanese pilots won’t fly military aircraft for someone else.)

        Check planespotters.com for current operators.

        • 767 was obviously world wide. The point being if there was a rational there are a lot of 767 pilots to draw on.

          As civilians do not fly Tankers (except in non combat exercises ) I do not see any validity.

          Relevant is can it deliver the fuel to all aircraft as needed.

          A330 pilots in civilian aircraft have not bearing on the situation.

          • Many countries reley heavily on reserve for army duty and can not afford a large staff like the USAF. So a pilot with routine on the tanker aircraft is a far better and cheaper.

            So how many 767 pilots are threre outside the KC-767 area and how many A330/350 pilots?

            The local airline with the right aircraft also provides spare parts in case the tanker is close to the civil aircraft.

            Check the countries with A330MRTT and check the civil airlines.

            I assume Australia did get a fair price for being launch costumer.

          • Which countries are using reserve pilots for its tanker aircraft outside US ?
            While it may be common with US, but they have very large fleets of tankers, not so with other countries. Generally the low hours military wide bodies fly ( compared to civilian planes) they dont require extra pilots.
            It doesnt follow that most non US airforces recruit pilots as reserve officers for flying duties of any kind , let alone for tankers. Excluding places like Israel/Switzerland which have a smaller full time force working with a much larger reserve.

          • I can speak on USAF.

            Reserve pilot seldom if ever fly the aircraft they are civilians on.

            We have reserve KC-135 squardons, and obviolsy there are virtual NO 707s vlyuing today.

            Reserve pilots fly Hercs, very few civialin Hercs (most out of Alaska though ideialy placed to cross fly if they are acutaly in the reserve)

            C17s, not so much.

            There are a smattering of government 737s, Gulfstream, 747 , DC-9 (days or yore) etc. I don’t know that those are flown by reserve pilots either.

            A lot fly fighters and attack aircraft, none that I now of in the civilian world.

            In short, what a USAF, Navy or Marine reserve pilot flies in the military has nothing to do with what they fly in their civilian lives.

        • Air Astana has 4 B767 that is that against the 767 fleets of AA, United, Air Canada (pardon), UPS, FedEx, ANA, JAL… ? Without these operators how many aircraft are left?

          I see many, many problems with the KC-46A. I believe it was the wrong choice for the US, and am not surprised the A330MRTT is winning most overseas sales.
          However, availability of 767 pilots really isn’t something I believe plays a role in procurement of the KC-46A/KC-767 vs the A330MRTT.
          Firstly, training pilots on the base type is the least of all problems when procuring a tanker. Secondly, the 767 was/is widely used outside the US. In Europe, Condor has 16 with 3 more joining the fleet soon, Thomson have another 4, BA still has 14 left… that list is by no means complete. Sure, there are more pax A330s around these days, but it’s not like the 767 is a niche aircraft you can’t find/train pilots for.

          Generally the low hours military wide bodies fly ( compared to civilian planes) they dont require extra pilots.
          Define “military widebodies”. Does the A400M qualify? The C-17?
          Germany, with its pretty small fleet of A310 MRTTs, to my knowledge has dedicated pilots for them.
          I’d be surprised if that were otherwise elsewhere – although I know the UK have a leasing agreement for a backup A33o Voyager with Thomson, I believe. I do not believe that this plane is actually piloted by the same pilots when in civilian vs military service, though, and I don’t believe this is the case.

    • You post makes no sense. At all. KC-46A pilots for any Air Force would be trained by the military, and in all likelihood NOT contracted or hired from civilian airlines. A lot of civilian 767 procedures will be utilized, but all the military specific stuff would have no analogue in the civilian pilot pool.

      And even if they did the disastrous lease deal the UK has saddled itself with, they’d still have to be trained by the military in military TTPs.

      The availability of pilots is pretty much exclusively dependent upon the air force training pipeline, not existing civilian pilots.

      • You can add into the disastrous UK deal that they do not have a Boom fueling system on their aircraft. It did get them into service quicker as the booms were not falling off (grin)

        Certainly is an issue if you are support allies (or should, trying) that do not have that.

        • @TransWorld
          Definitely. The UK will find the lack of boom refueling a liability, and it will restrict its use to allies in the future. Basically, they’ve said “no thanks” to refueling any F-35A in the future (boom required), so any European ally flying that variant can’t call or use UK aerial gas.

          Oh, and their C-17 and RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft will be tied to US refueling in the future, too, or allies who have booms on their fleet. Provided said allies will support UK missions.

          Dumb move all around, and should’ve just signed up for either boom capable A330s (probably saw Airbus booms flying into the ocean and said “No way”) or waited for KC-46A selection by USAF and picked up a couple. Surely Boeing would’ve offered a nice package deal with the C-17s.

          Oh well, at least they got smart and bought into the P-8, considering the embarrassment of having Russian subs and ships running around the isles without any UK ability to find them. Good thing the US was around to help out.

          • I did not understand it either that the UK ordered tankers without a boom.
            Maybe the UK will refit some tankers in the future with a boom. Should not be a big effort.

          • Any time you add anything to an aircraft its a big effort, let alone a boom.

          • It’s only a big effort if either A. it hasn’t been done before or B. the aircraft it has been done on is different from your aircraft.

            Fact is they all use the same base aircraft with very very subtle differences and that is largely in either the compartment layout (passengers etc) or the computer systems.

            I can’t speak to if the UK has different computer systems as to the RAAF in there MRTT’s but structually the issue in fitting and keeping the boom attached has been solved and can be rolled out to every MRTT with no worries.

  3. Oh look, an opportunity to bash Boeing and credit a superior Airbus product.

    For what it’s worth, citing an Airbus employee who was a one time public affairs officer is perhaps not a full/equal analysis of an asserted claim, nor at this point does the claim have any real world relevance.

  4. You failed to mention that the KC-46A has refueled an F-16, F/A-18, and an AV-8B, and was itself refueled by a KC-10, since the Sep 25 first flight. It seems like they’re waiting on the A-10 until the boom axial load issue is resolved.

    As OV-99 pointed out, the KC-45 was Airbus’ entry for the USAF competition. Since it doesn’t exist, we will never know whether or not development would’ve gone any smoother than for the KC-46A.

    • The Australian KC-30As have already refueled several US aircraft over Iraq with hose and boom. Therefore I think an US A330MRTT would not have the problems with the refueling system today as Boeing got them.

      The KC-45 was the official USAF designation for the winner of the first contest. The designation by Northrop Grumman was KC-30.

      • It doesn’t matter what the Australian KC-30As are doing, or the KC-767s for that matter. The USAF requirements meant a significant amount of development work no matter who won. The KC-46A is not the KC-767 just like the Airbus winner would not have been the A330MRTT. Stuff always goes wrong in development.

        • @Mike Bohnet

          For sure, development work was required for the KC-45 (i.e. armoured cockpit, USAF-specific sub-systems etc.), but AFAIK, USAF-specific development work would not have been required for the KC-45’s refueling system. Hence, a KC-45 development programme would very likely not have encountered any of the problems with its refueling system as Boeing’s got to deal with today on the KC-46A — just like MHalblaub pointed out.

          The KC-45 has a maximum fuel capacity of 250,000lb, (representing 25% more fuel than the capacity of the KC-135 aircraft) and a multi-point refuelling system with a mix of boom, hose and drogue, and hose drum systems which provide flexibility, high off-load rates and servicing of more aircraft per mission, thereby reducing or eliminating queues of waiting aircraft and lowering fuel-related mission-abort rates.

          The KC-45 has two under-wing refuelling pods and a centreline hose and drogue unit, which allow probe-equipped receiver aircraft from the US Navy, Marine Corps and allied forces to be refuelled.

          One operating option involves the direct view of the receiver aircraft from the rear of the KC-30. The other option involves the use of a remote air refuelling operator station (RARO station) installed in the flight deck. Both the direct view option and the RARO station option are optimised in terms of the man-machine interfaces. For day and night boom operation the aircraft is fitted with a 3D stereoscopic enhanced vision system.

          Sargent Fletcher, a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK company Cobham, is providing the two digital FRL 905E series hose and drogue (900 series wing pods and drogues) which will be installed on the KC-45 tanker’s outboard under-wing positions. The maximum fuel offload rate of the pods is 420gal a minute (2,800lb a minute). The system will provide full interoperability with all refuelling-capable US and Nato military aircraft.

          The 900 series pods already are used on EADS A310 MRTTs for the Canadian and German Air Forces and on the US Air Force MC-130H. The under-wing refuelling pods are installed on pre-existing hardpoints already outfitted for fuel and power and therefore require no structural modifications to the wing.

          The centreline hose drum refuelling unit is installed under the aft section of the fuselage, and provides an additional hose and drogue contact point with a 90ft hose length and a maximum offload refuelling rate of 4,000lb a minute.

          The EADS ARBS uses the same fly-by-wire technology as the KC-45’s flight control system and includes an automatic load elevation system, an independent disconnect function, redundant actuation systems and power supply.

          In July 2009, the aircraft fitted with ARBS demonstrated night-time operational capability during a multicontact mission with an F-16 fighter.

          The mission demonstrated the capabilities of the ARBS’ laser infrared lighting and high-definition digital stereoscopic viewing system. The flight tests were part of the final qualification phase for the EADS A330 multirole tanker transports.

          The boom is fitted with a roll and pitch joint which provides improved controllability. The maximum fuel off-load rate for the boom is 1,200gal a minute.

          The boom is suitable for all current receiver aircraft and is easily adaptable for future mission requirements including the refuelling of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). The boom’s geometric refuelling envelope is automatically configured for each type of receiver aircraft by the KC-45’s onboard intelligent control system.


          • one of the bigger issues Boeing faced was that large portions of the commercial wiring harness had to be redesigned to meet military separation requirements (damage tolerance) and they got it wrong the first time, I would bet Airbus would have had to do the same as that is also a unique USAF requirement

            they also would have needed to re-do their boom as the current MRTT boom does not have the flow rate the USAF required, so there would have been a chunk of dev for them too.

          • @bilbo

            In contrast to the Boeing offer, the KC-45/A330MRTT was the only aircraft that met the U.S. Air Force’s re-fueling boom requirements as outlined in its KC-X Request for Proposal (RFP), without further modification — having already demonstrated the required fuel offload rate of 1,200 U.S. gallons per minute.

            In contrast, the boom on the KC-767s that Boeing delivered to Italy and Japan can only refuel at the rate of 600 gallons per minute. Clearly, therefore, Boeing didn’t have an in-production boom that could meet the U.S. Air Force’s re-fueling boom requirements as outlined in its KC-X Request for Proposal (RFP).

            As for wiring harnesses, EADS/Airbus may have had to relocate/redesign some wire harnesses. I’m not sure, though, if they would have Fubared it to the same extent that Boeing managed to do on the KC-46A.

          • “I’m not sure, though, if they would have Fubared it to the same extent that Boeing managed to do on the KC-46A.”

            I see that we are in agreement on the point I’ve been making in my original post to Scott, that: “we will never know whether or not development would’ve gone any smoother than for the KC-46A”.

          • OV99:

            The point really is that USAF had a set of specifications that are dismissed so easily.

            RAAF did as well.

            We do know it took the A300MRT 5 years to get up to full ops with the RAAF.

            It would have had to do the same with USAF, but not allowed to be delivered until it did.

            767 (KC46) has one set of problems, A300MRT had another (not to mention some boom issues of its own.)

            We simply do not know how it would have faired in comparison.

          • @bilbo
            The A330 is full fly by wire and not somehow fly by cable. So reallocation of some wires is easier than to reallocate some cables to move tail controls.

            To put some fiber mash between the outer hull and the cockpit seems not to be very elaborated science.

          • The USAF KC-46 has an entire set of protections requirement (which the A330 initially did not meet and I do not know if they still have met them)

            It also had a major communications node requirements.

            I don’t see the merit of trying to say one is easier or better than the other without a professional weighting in.

            767 is probably a lot more robust from an electronic attack concept.

            Reality is we simply do not know, RAAF is probably the closest to US operating methods and needs and as we saw, they took 5 years to get their working fully.

            Using that as the nearest benchmark we can say it would have been a problem.

            Add in that Boeing took the 767 up to the latest cockpit standards. That is an issue as older cockpits have to add in features for operating in the civilian traffic environment (which is a significant issue).

          • @MHalblaub

            it was not flight control cables boeing needed to reroute to meet separation requirements, it was electrical wires.

            that would seem to make the A330 even more critical in this respect.

          • I do think its conjecture but a valid question on damage tolerance.

            Again being a specific US set of requirements with two vastly different aircraft architectures, a converted A330 would not have all the same changes needed as the 767)

            The fly by wire physical damage protection as well as EMP and electronic attack (virus penetration) would have been one of its own.

            I do know that Boeing at one time looked at an airbus wiring harness supplier and found they did not meet Boeings Commercial wiring separation standards. That may not be true now.

            As the USAF was not ordering an off the shelf A330MRT, it was a developmental contract. The boom ( once it stopped falling off , grin) probably could be modified to meet specs

            What drove the USAF to require that much more flow through I don’t know.

            Again the only standard to measure it against is the RAAF that works hard to maintain common operation standards with US forces (for obvious reasons) and it took them 5 years to get theirs full operational.

            It give you a good idea its not as slam dunk as some may think.

          • I’d say the biggest issue isn’t so much the KC-45(KC-30A) or the KC-46 but the procurement process.

            Australia picked an aircraft and spent the time sorting the faults out to get it ready ASAP to the required (by Australian needs) standard while the US not only with the tanker program but so many other’s over the last couple decades will go back and forth between different options in the end wasting a decade on useless paper work resulting in no net gain (and quite often cost increases) or worse yet said program being cancelled.

            Aussie KC-30A’s are operating today and are being upgraded as they go (not as picky in needing every little thing from the get go, If it was superior to what we had before we were happy and would take it, updates could be applied later) including having Link 16 fitted to them recently.

            End result US companies and politicians spent time bickering while Australia has managed to field the worlds most advanced tanker (currently) and do wonder’s with it not just in refueling aircraft or transporting people but actually becoming a communications node for aircraft and ground forces while on mission.

            The US needs to have a major rethink on the procurement process because at the moment the less funder much smaller ADF is starting to role out (excluding 5th gen fighters) more advanced aicraft quicker then the US (ie: E-7A Wedgetail).

            Regards, Matthew.

      • I’ve read the classified report on the air tanker deal and you have no clue of the hurdles NG/Airbus would have to overcome (and the curious side deals the USAF were willing to give them to ensure their first “win”).

        Let’s just say the Airbus team would have had to do a lot of work to meet the requirement and would probably have made the “losing booms” issue look like easy days.

        • Pretty much what most think. They certainly would have done it, they would have run into other issues and it would have been costly.

          Tanker wise for those using it, once they were able to keep the boom on it has gone well.

          System wise Australia has proven not so much. They were willing to work through it while they used what they could.

          USAF no. OT is for a fully capable aircraft and then fully production aircraft. Its not to correct the systems. Those defect are to be identified and fixed as they are currently doing.

  5. Scott, on a somewhat related matter, do you know why only one 767F was delivered in the first quarter? I thought Boeing was currently geared to producing and delivering one per month to FedEx.

    • The first order was for 27 and first delivery was in 2013 and a later order for a further 50.
      “The 50 firm-order aircraft will be delivered from fiscal 2018 through fiscal 2023.”
      As announced by Fedex in July 2015.
      So if we have the intial 27 over 5 years, that’s 5.4 per year, then
      50 aircraft over 6 ‘fiscal years’ from 2018 comes down to 8.3 per year.

      So current backlog can be seen as between 5-6 per year now that moves up to 8-9 per year.
      Doesnt seem it will ever get up to 1 per month and is currently as low as 1 per qtr.

  6. I think one of the most interesting key aspects was the RAAF getting theirs into service.

    It took 5 years for full operational capability.

    Supposedly when the 18 are delivered they will fulfill their full mission suite. Up front of done on the backside, it all takes time.

    Boeing will get the issue worked out.

      • combination of system maturity, demonstrated capability and quantity of airframes.

        IOC for the KC-46 is 18 Aircraft on the ramp (delivered and accepted) with a demonstrated set of capabilities primarily consisting of demonstrating fuel delivery to a specified subset of USAF receivers and receiving from KC-10 & other KC-45s (not sure if they need to demo receiving from KC-135)

        FOC is more planes, more capabilities (all specified and non-waived requirements from the initial contract)

        the reality is that IOC and FOC have little real meaning any more with the AF and Marines declaring IOC on the F-35 flying boat anchor without the ability to fire guns, drop bombs, track targets, or do much of anything beyond enrich Lockmart shareholders.

        • Bilbo:

          From what I am reading, there is no IOC for the KC-46.

          They deliver a productions group, 18 fully capable.

          Pre delivery group of (4?) .

          Work up might be a better term.

          Agreed on the F-35, it can’t do much with the Marines, iron bombs? Pretty sad operation.

          There is a contention it will work, but you wonder when you could get an F4 for 2.5 million, Mach 2.5 or so and carry 18,000 pounds of ordnance.

          Of course it was not “stealthy”

          I was reading that it took 4 x F-22s to shoot down an F4 drone. Makes you wonder.

  7. Scott:

    I am a bit confused on the FAA certification for the tanker?

    I thought that was the 2C airframe not the tanker that was FAA certified.

    Does FAA lack of certification hinder the military acceptance?

    • @TransWorld: A USAF requirement was FAA certification for the KC-46A. Too much time has passed for me to remember the reason why.

      • Civil certification makes it much easier to take civilians on board. E.g. RAF tanker operate as airline services between the UK and the Falklands.

        • Can you provide a link to confirm that the US cannot fly civilians without a civilian certification?

          • Ask ICAO or FAA. For regular transportation even charter an aircraft needs a civil certification.

            For emergency wartime operations any Air Force could do what they want. Disaster relieve or other such operations require a civil certification to transport civilians.

          • With all due respect, I am asking you for citation of the driving requirement for the KC-46 civilian certification.

            C17, C5A, C141 and the Military versions of the C-130 do not have it.

          • Is simple as it is.
            The USAF is not excluded from international law.
            To transport civilians you need a civil certification.

            That was also the reason for the A400M’s civil certification. RAF’s Voyager does indeed provide airline services to theFalklands.

            I can not provide one simple law stating “USAF is prohibited to …”. It is a set of various rules leading to the ban.

          • At least one of the Voyagers is out on lease.

            And the agreement is they can going out on lease if not being used.

            Intent was for tanker ops lease but it seems no one wants those, so now they are looking at pax ops.

            Weird deal

      • Wasnt it something to do with taping the civilian 767 spare parts supply chain.
        AF in general are not bound by FAA or civilian flying rules

        • Agreed not to mention that military aircraft of the transport type carry civilians all the time in testing and tech reps.

          If you can site the report or reasoning then its conjecture

          • No matter who they fly, it could be the President, they have their own rules and procedures and are not in anyway under FAA oversight for anything.
            It wouldnt make sense to change rules from one day carrying soldiers or marines and the next day be relocating civilians after a disaster.
            Its you that has the conjecture.

          • Difference between commercial ops and paying passengers and moving civilians around on military aircraft.

            Other than that, no one is citing anything other than conjecture of the citer.

            I would be interesting an list or attribution of any so called laws involved.

            If you can’t do that then its not fact.

          • Dear Transworld,
            the British Ministry of Defense offers flights to the Falklands via aircraft by AirTanker.

            According to the use of RAF pilots on these flights it sounds like a dry lease.

            Maybe USAF leased on aircraft?

  8. Northrop/Airbus alliance was not the first contract. Senator John McCain said he will do anything to block the first deal. He turn around and did everything to make sure Airbus win with the help of Ash carter. It was cheaper on the very first deal.

    • Definitely a twisted history.

      Add in EADS lobbyists were his campaign staff as well.

      He would have merit if he was not as guilty of the political maneuvering and benefit as well.

      One of the key aspects of the so called EADS win, was the fact that the AF gave them credit for capabilities that were not called for. That was illegal.

      As its a legal document, doing so is and was a violation to do so and Boeing was supported in protesting.

      If the proposal had said baseline was 50,000 gallons and you got credit if you carried more, then it would have been legal and valid.

      Ditto with cargo and passengers.

  9. How come the A330F needed a new higher nose gear but the A330MRTT didn’t?

    • Civilians don’t like getting crunched by cans.

      Military you take your chances!

    • As I recall it the nose down taxi attitude of the A330 is the issue. It was such that it was judged impracticle to develop a motorised loading system for the LD XX containers without some reduction of the body attitude. One assumes that the A330MRTT is not equiped for such an option.

    • As I remember no Air Force operates the MRTT with a main deck cargo capability. Even for RAF the MRTT offered sufficient cargo capability on the lower deck.

      With main deck cargo an AF would need palletized seating to transport troops. OK in case you already have a huge stock pile of such seats. Without additional costs.

      The KC-46 needs a main deck cargo capability to transport any cargo at all because the lower deck is filled up with auxiliary fuel tanks.

      I can see no reason why Airbus could not offer an MRTT based on A330F. I guess the price tag makes the difference and no costumer ordered the F.

      • So they dont have a main deck cargo door then ? ( True for RAF but they had a requirement for them to used as civilian airliners , as well as some other serious deficiencies)
        The payloads mentioned 45 tons sounds like some main deck to me for other users.

        • The 45 t are for the Australian KC-30A without main deck cargo capability.

          The A330-200F has a 70 t cargo capability at an MTOW 232 t. The MTOW was raised by 9 t lately.

          An A330MRTT with main deck cargo is able to load 32 military 463L pallets. The KC-46 just 18.

          On most airports around the world you will found gear to handle LD3.

        • The RAAF KC-30A’s are different some what to other nations MRTT’s, Specifics are;

          – Upto 270 passengers in 2 classes
          – The lower cargo hold can carry upto 36 ton of cargo
          – Carries 111t of fuel
          – Fitted with 2D and 3D screens
          – The boom can transfer 8,040 pounds of fuel a minute, which is just over 1,180 gallons a minute
          – The two drouges can transfer around 413 gallons a minute each
          – Cargo is devided into 3 sections with the Forward, Aft and Bulk. Forward can carry 14 x LD3 containers or 4 x 463L military pallets, Aft can carry 12 LD3 containers or 4 x 463L pallets with the bulk cargo hold able to carry loose items of 1 LD3 FAK.

          regards, Matthew

      • The requirement was for primarily a tanker and a freighter or pax carrier at some convenience (something less than 20% of the time as the US tankers are stationed in theater for the most part)

        Realistically there is no way to write a spec for two aircraft of such different capabilities.

        A 767 is smaller, cost less to build and engines are lower thrust and less costly.

        The US has spent a great deal of the treasury on dedicated aircraft that have some other capability (C17 for cargo but also can do medevac particularly from a hotter zone and passengers).

        I only drive my truck to work when I have to, its more expensive to operate, and the cost to support it are major (component are all a lot more expensive that the pax car)

        Congress also had bearing on it, the goal was to replace not dramatically change the KC-135 slot (as direct a replacement as possible which is a single aisle or a smaller wide aisle)

        The KC-46 did that, met the specifications. Note that the A330 too has tanks in the belly, just not as many.

        Military freight tends to be bulky so the large topside cans are better suited than the small LD3s below.

        A300 or 310 would have been the direct competitor but Airbus choose to drop that and focus on the A330. Their choice.

        A330 suits some AF not others (Italy and Japan).

        Oddly, South Korea choose it, for its area of ops the KC-46 is better suited. The A330 will work, just a lot of waste. As someone noted, they may want it sooner than latter and willing to take whats off the shelf even if not as capable as the KC-46 in self defenses and I believe it has a com node capability as well to act as a pass through or local director.

        Japan choose the KC-46, they already have 767s in service and their needs are local as well.

        Australia’s operates at quite a lot with US forces and I can see it working for them in getting squadrons support and gear to say Alaska for an Air exercise, then using it for tanker ops during and return. Smaller air force with more flexible needs.

        And the CRAF is not only used for the minimum required, its used for much more . Ergo there is a requirement for more dedicated cargo (and pax) aircraft going from the US to areas in the world.

        Tankers are kept in theatre to serve those needs. If its flying freight it can’t tanker and vis versa. If its in the US and needed its useless.

        No other air force in the world operates on a global basis the way the USAF does. KC-46 will serve that need fine and is the closest replacement available for the KC-135.

        • The A330 is a better fit for the USAF global operations but since they had the KC135, they had a lot of existing infrastructure to work with, which limited their choices. Getting more planes for their buck mattered too as they have a large existing fleet and reducing numbers seems to have lots of politicians up in arms.
          As the KC135 will still be around for a while, it can meet the smaller local needs for US based forces, mainly training purposes.
          The usage would vary as the new planes are capable of cargo and tanking, so makes sense for individual planes to fly more hours. That would mostly be from longer range cargo or aeromedical flights.

          • The MRTT isn’t a better fit for US ops. If that were remotely true, then the USAF would have retired the KC-135s when the KC-10s were brought online.

            The US has more airlift and sealift then the rest of the world combined. It is not in need of additional part-time airlift. In fact the US cancelled contract with a couple of civilian cargo haulers and bankrupted a couple (Evergreen Aviation for one) because it has no need for additional airlift capacity. The KC-135 flies cargo somewhere around 20-25% of its missions. It is not used extensively used as a cargo hauler so the MRTT doesn’t add a benefit to this mission.

            It is not in need of additional fuel capacity (most tanker missions return with greater than 50% of fuel on board). There are fewer a/c in need of KC-10s capabilities than when the USAF bought them (fewer airlifters, no SR-71 dedicated fleet). The MRTT has similar capabilities to the KC-10 and there is no need for additional similar-sized a/c.

            The USAF is not in need of additional range. It has bases on either side of every ocean there is refueling squadrons based on both sides. It doesn’t need the MRTT’s range.

            There is a problem that the MRTT really would have needed lots of new infrastructure to fit into bases designed around a KC-135, B-52, and/or C-130 footprint. The KC-135 refueling base I live closest to used to be HC-130s and HH-60 Pavehawks and the USAF converted those -130 sheds into -135 hangers but they lack the width and length for an MRTT (the C-130 hangers had an upward slot in the middle of the hanger so the tail would fit inside, the KC-135s have a two half-circles in either hanger door so doors close around the tail empennage which doesn’t fit in the hanger lengthwise or height-wise). Other KC-135 bases are former B-52 bases and would suffer the same problem.

            the MRTT is heavier, wider, and more expensive to operate. In a world of declining defense spending, the USAF doesn’t need to spend more money performing a mission than it has to.

            If I’m a smaller air force buying a handful of refuelers, the MRTT’s greater range, cargo capacity, and fuel capacity act as a force multiplier for a small extra cost. It makes lots of sense and it is the better a/c for those countries.

            It isn’t a better a/c for the USAF.

          • While I agree that the MRT was not the right choice cagegory wise to replace the KC-135, I do disagree on airlift.

            US now has 220 C17s as well as C5s (Bs?) and the newer upgraded Ms/

            All those can require fueling.

            What should be added in is that tanker numbers are a limiting factor, ie you are better off with more numbers that carry less fuel.

            One MRT can almost replace two KC-135s fuel wise, but it can’t fuel more aircraft than the KC-46.

            US simply needs a lot more tankers in a lot more places.

            I would guess the US has 8 X the tankers the rest of the world combined.

            Europe with its equal size should match the US and does not come close.

        • The 111 t of fuel are completely inside the standard tanks without using auxiliary tanks. The A330MRTT has the wing of its bigger brother A340 where the fuel lines to the outer engine hard points.

          The smaller A310MRTT operates with auxiliary tanks.

          Japan and Italy ordered they B767 because both countries deliver parts for B767 production. Delivery was delayed by about 5 years.

          The Northrop Grumman KC-30 was offered for less moneythan the KC-767AT.

          South Korea did choose the MRTT for several reasons:
          – tested and in service
          – faster to acquire
          – Korean Airlines operates A330
          – better take-off performance on short runways
          – no need for a main deck cargo floor

          • Is there some citation to back up the shorter distance takeoff?

            That seems contradictory.

            Agreed its more available. KAF uses KA pilots to fly their aircraft?

            Also seems like you are honking around in a much bigger airframe, with more expensive engines, tires, brakes and using a lot more fuel.

            Small scale and maybe not mater, but then if you don’t need the cargo space why buy one?

    • Apparently, the air forces that purchased the A330MRTT don’t care as much about the cargo transport mission as they do about the passenger transport mission. Otherwise they probably would have included requirements that would’ve forced Airbus to include main deck cargo capability like the USAF requirements did in the final tanker competition.

      The USAF requirement was for a fully loaded 463L pallet compatible with transshipment to/from C-17 and C-130 transports. Re-stacking the pallet in theater for transshipment was not allowed. These pallets can be over 7 ft tall and can weigh up to 10,000 lbs.

      Loading such pallets into the lower deck of an A330MRTT would be quite a trick since the deck is sloped due to the short nose gear. Also, since the lower deck cargo door is only 5 ft 6 in high, lading a 7 ft high 463L pallet would be impossible.

      • Interesting. I had never read about this main deck cargo requirement. Just to note, I never read the spec. But many people who contribute here have done so and this is the first time I had heard of this.

        Seems to contradict what many people are claiming to be a very minor and secondary cargo mission (less than 20% of the time). But I guess when they wanted that cargo capability, they wanted it in a big way.

        • To be honest, I’ve not read the spec either. I haven’t been able to find it. I heard about the 463L height and the no repacking from an acquaintance who used to work at NG at the time. I suppose it makes some sense.

          Either way it seems that the KC-46A is more suited for the cargo mission while the A330MRTT is more suited for the passenger mission.

          • I believe main deck cargo door and capability is there, not sure who has taken it.

          • What’s the point of having a main deck cargo door if there isn’t a main deck cargo rated floor to go along with it? Loading 10,000 lb 463L pallets on a non-cargo main deck? I don’t think so. And, if there’s going to be a main deck cargo rated floor, then why not just use the freighter? The fact that Airbus chose not to propose an MRTT based on the A330-200F for the KC-X competition (including in 2010 when the A330-200F was finally available) boggles my mind.

      • An A330MRTT with main deck cargo is able to load 32 military 463L pallets. The KC-46 just 18 just like the C-17. The C-5 hauls 36.

        The A330-200 can carry 9 463L 64” high on lower floor or 26 LD3. That seems sufficient for many Air Forces. Max height for 463L is 96 ”.

        • So, you’re saying that the A330MRTT, with a non cargo rated main deck floor can carry 10,000 lb fully loaded 463L pallets? I don’t think so. Also, loading light pallets onto a sloped floor may be easy, but 10,000 lb 463L’s? Again, I don’t think so.

          Bigger doesn’t mean better.

          You said in one of you earlier posts: “The KC-46 needs a main deck cargo capability to transport any cargo at all because the lower deck is filled up with auxiliary fuel tanks.”

          Well, a more accurate perspective is that the KC-46A has the cargo loadability advantages associated with utilizing a main deck cargo capability that comes from being based on a freighter rather than a passenger carrier. It’s cargo carrying capability is not compromised by a sloping, less robust passenger deck. Because the KC-46A doesn’t need to carry cargo on the lower deck (like the A330MRTT does), it can use auxiliary tanks on the lower deck to trade some of it’s original payload carrying capacity for increased fuel carrying capability to meet the requirements. This way, when the KC-46A is on a pure tanker mission, it’s not lugging around a lot of needless weight.

      • The Australian KC-30’s can carry 8 463L pallets actually ontop of there fuel load and the 270 passengers.

        You need to be careful about comparing purely civilian known spec’s on aircraft to that of what is on ones modified for the military.

  10. I’m amazed the French didn’t order an A333F based MRTT NEO. All ingredients seem “on the shelve”.

    • Once you have a configuration its costly to change it no matter how miner.

      Also bear in mind, as far as tinkering goes, fuel economy is kind of a so what?

      Not entirely, if on the average with low investment you can improve fuel burn its done (KC-135s having had CFM engines put on them). But that was a huge leap from what they had to current not just in fuel burn but maintenance as well as old parts production (or lack thereof)

      Same with the A330F. Its still a change and it need to be redone as all was done on a civilian model. It all costs and then has to be certified.

      I believe USAF tankers only fly 800 hours a year or less on average (stationed all over the world in number and a lot going on overall but isolated spots may be quite active, rotate them around to even out the hours)

      • Oh active theaters can relly drive up the hours, Some of the KC-30A’s and E-7A’s in the RAAF already have a few hundred hours on them in less then 12 months with operations against ISIL.

    • Best prices are for delivery from existing production. A heavier new engine that saves some fuel but costs more isnt so important. PLus a new engine design may be more maintenance with higher costs.
      The existing engine won’t even come off the wing for 10+ years.

    • The A330F is based on the A330-200. A NEO makes no sense for freighters due to a low utilization rate. The price is far more important.

      The decision for KC-46 was also based on high fuel prices. The lighter aircraft burns far less fuel while doing touch&go maneuvers. USAF calculated with 7 such maneuvers on every flight.

  11. Of interest:

    Designed to operate safely in medium-threat environments,
    the KC-46 hosts a series of self-protection mechanisms.
    An ALR-69A radar warning receiver alerts the
    pilots when hostile radars illuminate the aircraft. The
    AAQ-24 Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (LAIRCM)
    system combines a two-color IR missile warning system
    with a directed IR countermeasures set that blinds
    incoming IR-guided missiles with lasers. A Tactical Situational
    Awareness System compiles threat information
    from onboard sensors and friendly aircraft
    and, when a threat is detected, automatically
    alerts the crew and suggests a
    new route. In addition, the cockpit is armored,
    the fuel tanks have ballistic protection
    and the entire aircraft is hardened
    against electromagnetic pulses.

      • A few layers of Kevlar around the cockpit. No titanium bathtube like an A-10 has.

        • I suspect its more than that.

          Note the fuel tanks have ballistic protection where as previous it was the cockpit that it was attributed to by MH.

          Also note the cockpit is “armored”

          Unless there is some published evidence to the contrary, the casual use of the term, what it means is an opinion.

        • I can assure you that a “few layers of Kevlar” won’t provide a lot of ballistic protection. NIJ level II-A vests require much more than just a few layers of Kevlar. The level of required ballistic protection depends on the threat environment that the KC-46A must operate in. There is a vast amount of design space between a Ti bathtub and a few layers of Kevlar.

  12. MHalblaub

    I want to add in that I break my writing up into two parts.

    One is purely technical , the other is my own unique perspective on what that means. It does not mean I am right.

    I have worked from digging ditches, driving 80,000 pound dump trucks on into surveying and then power generation, building controls systems, digital building controls, switchgear repair as well as engine repair.

    I am deeply bother when someone throws out casual terms and is ignorant of or ignores what it takes to make things happen.

    You do not simply thrown in or on layers of cloth and call it ballistic protection. US infantry have various levels form Kevlar vests to steel plate inserts and that is just for 7.62 caliber and mostly 7.62 x39 which is a relatively low energy round compared to many others.

    Any miner change in an aircraft has implications . You add something here, you have wires and hoses and tubes that are affected.

    Chaff a wire, a hose or a tube and you can loose an aircraft, there have been innumerable examples of that (RAAF with the C130, US with the V22 and those were approved mods that were not done right. An inflight entrainment system installed poorly takes down an MD11 (Swissair)

    Having been at the level all my working life where all these good ideas have to be made to work, I can tell you its not easy, its not simple and it costs and with an Aircraft , it cost lots of money. .

    And do not get me wrong, this is a system. Without a company, accountants , IT, office administration on down to Janitorial I could not do my job, so I am not noble. I am at the pointy end of the spear and its not as easy as people think.

    You turn on a light switch, that’s in a facility or house, behind it there is a building distribution system, which goes to a transformer, which takes 7500 volts ac (US) to your 120/208 (220 in the rest of the world). That 7500 comes from a Swith Yard that takes 50, 125, 250,000 volts down to the 7500, that in turn is fed by a network of lines that come from a power generation facility that generates at 7500 volts (more or less) and a transformer yard that boosts it up. A simple light switch going on has a complex system behind it and that is just to get light. Its costly, each portion has its specialists and it all costs. Its not even high tech and its costs major bucks.

    Converting a A330F to a tanker would easily run 300 to 500 million or more.

    Adding ballistic and armored protection that ensures certain levels or protection against spec rounds costs a lot of time and money to get it right.

    The electronics on a tanker are not cheap and its a local com and or command node and to do that you have to be able to talk to all your allies and their odd radio systems.

    Failure to cite background facts to me just means things are being thrown out.

  13. reading the many comments from the posters makes this article so ironic, specially from the title “pontification”. It’s from desk generals like these who made the re-capitalization of USAF’s tanker fleet so “f***-up”.

    Sad to see USA’s effort,money and time to find the best a/c for their troops in terms of mission,loiter,capability has been missed and wasted. now they are stuck.

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