KC-46A charging into new year with momentum

Air Mobility Command leader highlights a momentous 14 months for the KC-46A.

March 01, 2023 in Defense

EVERETT, Wash. --- In September 2022, the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command (AMC) approved the KC-46A Pegasus for worldwide deployment, including combat operations.

During a recent visit to Boeing’s Everett Modification Center, Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Renfro, AMC’s KC-46A cross-functional team lead, described how the Air Force has demonstrated the capabilities of the KC-46A—and where it’s headed in the future.

“Over a 14-month period, Air Mobility Command – through a deliberate, risk-informed, data-driven process – took the KC-46 from a position of very limited employment to worldwide combat capable,” Lt. Col. Renfro said.

Part of that process involved proving out the Pegasus in a series of Interim Capability Releases and employment concept exercises around the world.

“Air Mobility Command has put this aircraft operationally into the theater during employment concept exercises three times: once in the European theater, once in the Pacific theater and once in the Middle East,” Renfro said at the Everett Modification Center, where Boeing installs the KC-46A’s combat-ready defensive systems.

“We took the Pegasus and employed it in the hands of real operators who use it day to day, put it in the field, had the operators employ it for operational combat missions in some cases, and they gave us feedback on where the aircraft stands and where it needs to stand,” he said.

Renfro praised the KC-46A’s tactical situational awareness system and data connectivity for the advantages they bring to the fleet, as well as the tankers multi-mission versatility for aerial refueling, cargo and passenger transportation and aeromedical evacuation transportation.

“The KC-46 brings a lot of capabilities that were not traditionally baked into the legacy aircraft; notably defensive systems – the ability to detect and avoid threats using either on-board measures or tactical data link options that are passed to us via other receivers and other platforms out in the field,” Renfro said.

He provided a specific example from an exercise last year.

“A tanker saw a pop-up threat that the fighter didn't see right away,” Renfro explained. “Our tanker crew was able to call out, ‘Hey, there is a threat over this quadrant. Vector over and engage.’ The fighter conducted the kill based on that pop-up notification.

“So we actually had to tanker participating in the kill chain specifically because of that connectivity it brings to the fight,” Renfro said.

Renfro also addressed the partnership between Boeing and USAF to continue updating the KC-46, including the Remote Vision System 2.0 upgrade.

“RVS 2.0 represents a leap forward in our ability to employ the aircraft,” Renfro said. “We've been doing so with the current system and we are comfortable and confident in our ability to employ that system, knowing after a rigorous testing process and operational evaluation what we need to work on what we need to work around.”

RVS 2.0 features a state-of-the-art visual display for a realistic, 3D-immersive operator experience. With full color 4K Ultrahigh-Definition and High Dynamic Range (4K UHD HDR) sensor and display technologies, as well as improved computing infrastructure and processing, RVS 2.0 provides aerial refueling operators with high-definition visibility optimized for dynamic range in operational environmental conditions.

“(RVS 2.0) allows us to employ the aircraft over a wider variety of operational environments and lighting conditions,” Renfro said.

Renfro stressed that all of these improvements have been made as part of a collaborative effort between Boeing and U.S. Air Force.

“We have boom operators at the wings and the program office working directly with the Boeing engineers and the Boeing boom operates to figure out what is the best solution in order to develop this combat capability and get it to the warfighter for the long-term vision of the program,” Renfro said.

“RVS 2.0 represents the culmination of that partnership and we are very happy with the result.”