By Michael Koch, Vice President, Boeing Defense , Space & Security India
Bangalore. 04 February 2021. The recent contract award from the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for an additional 12 KC-46A Pegasus aircraft is a testament to the success of the air-refueling platform by Boeing which is enabling the U.S Air Force to provide in-flight refueling services to bombers, fighters, airlifters, surveillance aircraft, and other aircraft flown by the U.S. military.
With the KC-46A Pegasus, a new era of aerial refueling and mobility capabilities has dawned and Boeing plans to build 179 of the 767-based refueling aircraft for the Air Force to replace its legacy tanker fleet.
Boeing is now on contract for 79 tankers for the U.S. Air Force and 42 aircraft have been delivered to date.
Following an agreement with the USAF, Boeing is currently refreshing the entire Remote Vision System of the KC-46, including upgrades to the existing cameras to provide improved video imagery to the operator as well as the addition of a new sensor that provides information about the distance between the boom and the receiver aircraft. LIDAR sensors (imaging, ranging and object detection) are being developed in the automotive industry for collision avoidance and autonomous navigation in ground vehicles. Boeing is leveraging those commercial applications for use in the KC-46.
The new system includes full color cameras with 4K Ultra High Definition and High Dynamic Range (4K UHD HDR) sensors and displays that capitalize on technologies like those used in state-of-the-art production and theater systems. An upgraded computing infrastructure will provide improved image processing, camera exposure control, and overlay processing.
The KC-46 is already providing significant capability to the USAF having already delivered more than 28.9 million pounds of fuel to a wide array of receiver aircraft.
In addition, the KC-46A will be certified to refuel 64 aircraft models, including the C-17 Globemaster, F-22 Raptor, B1 and B2 bomber aircraft, among others. Of course this number will continue to grow as additional aircraft are added to USAF and ally fleets.
UNMATCHED CAPABILITY FOR INDIA
The KC-46 has the lowest life-cycle costs of any of its current competitors in the market, making it the most efficient tanker available today.
The aircraft 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 refueling 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. It also has a fully integrated capability that enables crews to perform aeromedical evacuation on any flight.
ROBUST DEFENSIVE SYSTEMS
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 armor 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.
It can refuel both hose-and-drogue as well as boom receptacle receiver aircraft on any sortie. It utilizes 21st century centerline and wing-mounted hose and drogue systems as well as an advanced sixth-generation fly-by-wire boom. Simultaneous air refueling of two fighter aircraft is supported through wing air refueling pods (WARPS). All of these systems are built to international refueling standards. That means the KC-46 can refuel the IAF fleet now, on day one. From refueling India’s front line fighter force to direct support of its C-17 fleet, the KC-46 enables allied and coalition refueling of all fixed-wing receiver aircraft anytime, on every mission, including simultaneous multi-point refueling.
A large Boeing 787 15-inch displays allows KC-46 pilots to quickly optimize 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.
With the Indian Air Force (IAF) intending to convert itself into an expeditionary force, the air refueler is believed to be a necessity in the coming years. The IAF has already taken decisions to increase its operational reach by deciding to enable all its aircraft and helicopters for combat and support role for mid-air refueling.
The most reliable and economical tanker to operate, the KC-46 will provide India with the combat capability it needs for sovereign operations and will also serve as an aircraft to move men and material. Pegasus is the best choice for today and the decades to come.