U.S. Air Force Expects KC-46 Deliveries To Resume Next Month

A KC-46 at Yokota Air Base, Japan, in 2022.

Credit: U.S. Air Force

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii—The U.S. Air Force expects to resume accepting deliveries of KC-46s next month after an extended pause as Boeing and supplier Daher have addressed quality issues on all newly built 767s.

Only one KC-46 has been delivered to the Air Force so far this year, with 15 expected by year’s end. Boeing and supplier Daher discovered an issue with a surface coating nonconformance on center-wing fuel tanks. Boeing announced July 11 that it had resumed its commercial 767 deliveries, with eight out the door in the second quarter. Air Mobility Command (AMC) says it expects to have two KC-46s delivered in August, to begin standing up operations at Travis AFB, California.

AMC boss Gen. Mike Minihan tells Aerospace DAILY in an interview here that despite the delay, he expects the contracted delivery requirements to be met. While there has not been much of an impact on current operations, that is not the point, he says.

“The point is we wrote a contract for aircraft that are expected to be delivered on a schedule and our expectation is those schedules be met,” he says.

Boeing said in a statement that it completed quality rework on all 767 and KC-46 components and it is working with the Air Force on the timing of tanker deliveries. 

“I’m a customer, and I’m a customer that wants on-time deliveries,” Minihan says. “I want at scale, I want at quality and at cost and I certainly want on time. The dialogue between myself and the contractor is wide open and bracketed with very honest discussions, and my expectation is that they would meet what I would consider the nonnegotiable items and one of those is on-time delivery.”

Boeing Defense & Space CEO Ted Colbert told Aerospace DAILY in May that the company is not coming off its commitment to the Air Force for the year. 

“So obviously that puts a lot of pressure on us in the third and fourth quarter,” he said. “But we believe the work we’re doing to mitigate that pressure right now hopefully will come home—and if it doesn’t, it’ll be for all the right reasons, which are safety and quality.” 

Boeing is designing a major fix for the tanker’s biggest issue, its remote vision system. The RVS 2.0 design will replace the entire boom operator station and the cameras and sensors used for the refueling process. The end of operational testing for the RVS 2.0 system is now expected in December 2025.

Minihan says he has confidence in the current schedule, unless he is told differently.

“I’m not biased toward skepticism on this. There needs to be an honest dialogue between us and Boeing,” he says. 

The major concern for AMC will be how the installation of the new system will be done. This could be at individual operating bases, in depots or at Boeing facilities. It has not been determined yet. Minihan says the work needs to be done smoothly without disrupting the units that are standing up operations. 

“I don’t intend to be the shortstop handling hot grounders—‘Hey, this is the thing we’re working on today,’” he says, using a baseball analogy. “My intent is to orchestrate that into an eloquent solution so that as they come off the line, as they come out of depot, home station maintenance, whatever the solution is, it is almost invisible to the operators on the line.”

Minihan spoke to Aerospace DAILY amid his command’s massive Mobility Guardian 2023 exercise across the Pacific. As part of the event, four KC-46s have deployed to Australia to support refueling operations for both that exercise and other events in the region. 

“I’m very pleased with the 46,” he says. “There is certainly some challenges that we need to close aggressively, and one of them is the delivery schedule.”

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.