Delivery of the first Boeing KC-46 air refueling tanker to the Air Force will be delayed by about six months.
Boeing said in a statement Friday that the delay is related to qualification and certification of the airplane’s centerline drogue and wing-aerial refueling pod systems, and the changes the company will have to make on the first 18 airplanes to correct them.
Boeing said it now expects to deliver the first KC-46 in August 2017, instead of March 2017. McConnell Air Force Base in southeast Wichita is scheduled to be among the first bases to get the new tanker.
Boeing’s original “required assets available” date – when it was required to have 18 completed tankers delivered – was August 2017.
Boeing said Friday that it will have all 18 planes delivered – without the wing-aerial refueling pod systems – by January 2018. The wing-aerial refueling systems will be delivered by October 2018, according to Boeing.
“The underlying production system remains on track, and Boeing will have more than 18 aircraft through the factory line and in various stages of final change incorporation and certification by August 2017,” Boeing said in the statement.
As production delays have plagued the tanker’s time line in recent years, the Air Force has “remained cautiously optimistic that Boeing would quickly address these issues and meet the original goal,” said Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson in an e-mailed statement.
“However, we understand that no major procurement program is without challenges and the Air Force remains committed to ensuring all aircraft are delivered as technically required,” he said. “There is no increased cost to the government as a result of these changes.”
It wasn’t immediately clear Friday what effect the delay would have at McConnell Air Force Base, which is scheduled to be the first active-duty-led base in the country to fly missions with the tankers.
Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, which is under McConnell oversight, will be the first Air National Guard base to fly the tankers. Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma will be the KC-46’s formal training unit.
“The latest delay of the KC-46 tanker is disappointing,” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said in an e-mailed statement Friday. “I will continue to monitor the situation and have requested a briefing from the Air Force on the nature of the delay.”
McConnell is expected to receive 36 tankers total. It was previously expected to receive 24 KC-46s between March 2017 and June 2018, and an additional 12 between April 2019 and January 2020, according to an Air Force letter sent to Moran in March.
An updated time line for the tankers at McConnell was not immediately available Friday.
McConnell’s Public Affairs department did not respond to a request seeking comment on Friday.
The KC-46 is a militarized version of Boeing’s 767 airliner. It can hold nearly 213,000 pounds of fuel and can also carry cargo and serve in a medical evacuation role, according to Boeing.
The $51 billion KC-46 program will eventually produce 179 tankers to replace the Air Force’s half-century-old fleet of KC-135 tankers.