USAF Expects Boeing’s KC-46 Delivery to Be Late, Boeing Insists

The Air Force announced it expects Boeing to miss the delivery deadline for the first KC-46A tanker. Here, a KC-46A Pegasus deploys the centerline boom for the first time Oct. 9, 2015. Boeing photo by John D. Parker.

The Air Force now expects Boeing to miss its December 2017 deadline to deliver its first KC-46 aircraft, the service announced on Thursday.

After completing its annual schedule risk assessment on the program—a standard method by which uncertainties are factored into a baseline schedule to determine if any changes may occur—the service expects “first aircraft delivery beyond Boeing’s forecast into late Spring of 2018,” reads a statement from the Pentagon.

“We agree with the assessment that there are risks [and there is always risk until testing is complete], … but we’re still planning to deliver the first KC-46 by late 2017—nothing has changed in that regard and that’s what we’ve said for some time now,” according to an email from Boeing to Air Force Magazine.

USAF’s conclusions about the timeline echo findings by the Government Accountability Office as outlined in a March report about the KC-46 program.

“GAO’s analysis shows there is risk to the current delivery schedule due to potential delays in Federal Aviation Administration certifications and key test events,” according to that report. “Program officials agree that there is risk to Boeing’s test completion rate until it obtains Federal Aviation Administration approval for the design of all parts, including the pods, but test mitigation strategies are underway.”

USAF points at those two reasons—FAA design approvals and testing—as the “top issues slowing progress” on the program. The FAA’s approval is due in July, after which USAF “expects to have greater confidence on the timeline.”

The service is sticking to its plan of building 15 KC-46A tankers a year for about $3 billion, as outlined in the Fiscal 2018 budget request. That rate is expected to persist through the late 2020s, though the Air Force did ask for an additional $600 million for three more KC-46A tankers in its unfunded priorities request to Congress. The Air Force also will invest $2 billion in construction projects, some of which apply to the beddown locations for the new tankers.

Days before USAF’s announcement, freshly minted Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was asked about the program in a posture hearing on June 6, alongside Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. They both told lawmakers of the Senate Armed Services Committee that months of delay in the program are expected, saying meetings were taking place that very day on the subject.