Boeing, Aurora To Develop KC-46 Survivability Improvements


Credit: U.S. Air Force

LE BOURGET—Boeing and Aurora Flight Sciences on June 20 announced a joint effort to develop new defensive systems and countermeasures for the KC-46 and future tankers.

Aurora, a Boeing subsidiary, will lead the research and design of composite components that will improve the tanker’s operational survivability. The focus of the work will be at Aurora’s manufacturing facility in Columbus, Mississippi. The companies did not outline more specifics about the components.

The announcement was made at the Paris Air Show here.

“The KC-46A already features defensive systems that are unprecedented in a tanker,” Justin Hatcher, advanced technology director for Boeing’s KC-46 Program, said in an announcement. “We continue to evolve the KC-46A and other next-generation refueling and mobility platforms to further enhance mission versatility and survivability.”

Aurora already produces composite components and subassemblies, including composite skin for Boeing’s uncrewed MQ-25 Stingray tanker, a Boeing statement said. 

Boeing and the U.S. Air Force tout the KC-46’s survivability as a major feature of the tanker, with more countermeasures than older tankers such as its KC-135, and more situational awareness. The Air Force has announced it wants to accelerate development of a future tanker, known as the Next Generation Air refueling System (NGAS). 

The service’s current plan, pending congressional approval, is to cancel a separate effort previously known as KC-Y and buy more KC-46s to cover the gap until NGAS would be available in the mid-2030s.

In addition to the announcement with Aurora, Boeing is also providing additional communications as part of a Block 1 upgrade. The $184 million contract, announced in March, provides upgraded beyond-line-of-sight and line-of-sight communications with antijamming and encryption.

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.