|Published: February 2017|
AS INDIA looks to expanding its capabilities and reach in protecting its airspace, tankers play a key role in extending range of existing assets. With the Indian Air Force expressing an interest in acquiring tankers to fulfil this role, Boeing believes that the KC-46A Pegasus’ versatility, capability and operational benefits will be the perfect fit for India’s multi-role tanker requirements. In this interview, Jim Eisenhart of Boeing Defense, Space & Security spoke to I ndia Strategic on how modern day tankers not only take advantage of the latest innovations in technology and combat capability, but also perform a variety of roles in addition to aerial refuelling.
In terms of performance, the tankers of today are quite different from tankers of the past. Taking advantage of latest innovations in technology and combat capability, modern day tankers perform a variety of roles in addition to just aerial refuelling. Take Boeing’s KC-46A for example. Highly reliable and efficient, the wide-body, this multi-role tanker can refuel all US allied and coalition military aircraft any time, on any mission. It can also carry passengers, cargo and patients whenever and wherever needed. With unmatched operational flexibility, the KC-46A is a mobility “game changer.” It is bringing about a new era of efficient combat aerial refuelling. With improved refuelling capabilities, superior situational awareness and flexible multi-role capability, the KC-46 is the perfect fit for customers looking to add a more capable and versatile tanker platform to
How has the response been from prospective customers towards the KC-46A Pegasus? Are there any aircraft currently operational?
The US Air Force is very excited about the KC-46 and the benefits it will bring to the fleet — it will be an outstanding aircraft for decades to come. Last month, the US Air Force awarded Boeing $2.1 billion for 15 KC-46A tanker aircraft, spare engines and wing air refuelling pod kits. This order is the third low-rate initial production lot for Boeing. The first two came in August 2016 and included seven and 12 planes, respectively, as well as spare parts. Boeing plans to build 179 of the 767-based refuelling aircraft for the US Air Force to replace its legacy tanker fleet. Tanker deliveries will begin later this year. With the US Air Force about to receive its first tanker aircraft and Japan announced as the programme’s first international customer, other countries are taking a closer look at the KC-46’s unique capabilities and the benefits of adding a more capable and versatile tanker to their fleets.
Could you explain in some detail, the features that make the KC-46A Pegasus a capable and potent game changer?
A combination of various factors make the KC-46 a game changer and ideal fit to the requirements of today’s modern armed forces.
The KC-46 is built as a combat tanker from day one – the KC-46 is delivered with a robust suite of defensive systems and self-protective measures. It is electromagnetic pulse-hardened for missions in a nuclear environment for the high-end fight as well as incorporates flight-deck armour for protection against small arms. Additionally, the KC-46 is equipped with chemical-biological protective systems. All of these systems are incorporated into the aircraft as it is being produced, not as a retrofitted modification. The KC-46 also has the ability to launch from a ‘ready state’ within 10 minutes and coupled with its threat awareness and avoidance system, allows the Pegasus to truly fuel the fight.
The KC-46 has improved refueling capability – the KC-46 can refuel both hose-and-drogue as well as boom receptacle receiver aircraft on any sortie. It utilises 21st century centreline and wing-mounted hose and drogue systems as well as an advanced sixth-generation fly-by-wire boom. Simultaneous air refuelling of two fighter aircraft is supported through wing air refuelling pods (WARPS). All of these systems are built to international refuelling standards. That means the KC-46 can refuel the IAF fleet now, on day one. From refuelling India’s front line fighter force to direct support of its C-17 fleet, the KC-46 enables allied and coalition refuelling of all fixed-wing receiver aircraft anytime, on every mission, including simultaneous multi-point refueling.
The KC-46 is based on a proven platform – based on a commercial 767 with more than 1,000 767s built to date, it is a proven commercial airliner, freighter and tanker. The 767 platform bears a 99.7 per cent dispatch reliability rate, absolutely essential for protecting sovereign airspace. Additionally, the KC-46 has the lowest life-cycle costs of any of its current competitors in the market, making it the most efficient and effective tanker available today.
The KC-46 has superior situational awareness – large Boeing 787 15-inch displays allow KC-46 pilots to quickly optimise flight parameters for critical decision making and mission success; and it also incorporates a Tactical Situational Awareness System, which provides dynamic, battle-space awareness to the aircrew.
The KC-46 offers a flexible multi-role capability – the KC-46 can be rapidly reconfigured in two man-hours for any mission — carrying passengers, cargo, aeromedical or any combination of the three, while still performing its main air refuelling role. With its unique main cargo deck door, the KC-46 has 7,800+ square feet of cargo space to accommodate up to 18 full-size 463L pallets, which is more than any other tanker aircraft. The KC-46 also has a fully integrated capability that enables crews to perform aeromedical evacuation on any flight.
In terms of lifecycle costs, what are the advantages that the KC-46 will bring to customers?
The KC-46 will deliver tremendous savings over its lifetime through lower maintenance, depot and repair costs. It benefits from the advanced avionics, aerodynamics, materials and propulsion incorporated on the Boeing 767 passenger and freighter aircraft (more than 1,000 are currently flying today). The proven combination of light, durable aluminum alloy and composite structure help make it lighter and more fuel efficient. Similar to the Indian Navy’s P-8I aircraft, Boeing is building the KC-46 “in-line” which is more efficient and helps expand the life of the aircraft.
As India expands its Air Force and increases its defencive capabilities, the KC-46 is the perfect choice. The most reliable and economical tanker to operate, the KC-46 will provide India with the combat capability it needs for sovereign operations. Pegasus is the best choice for today and the decades to come.