Surge of the Telephone Tankers

KC-135s surpassed 50,000 combat flying hours providing combat communications relay during aerial refueling orbits over Iraq and Syria last month, officials announced. Tankers supporting US Central Command began flying with the Roll-On Beyond Line-of-Sight Enhancement (ROBE) relay in 2008, and KC-135s from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, surpassed the 40,000-hour mark less than a year ago, marking a sharp increase in operational employment. “We always have tankers in the fight, so having it on tankers is a good thing,” 340th EARS pilot Maj. Jordan Collins said in a release. “It gives the Air Force and coalition partner’s access to vital information,” helping forces overcome the limitations of terrain and distance, he added. The 340th EARS and its sister squadron, the 22nd EARS, are the only units to operate ROBE, though it could be installed on any KC-135, according to officials.