The U.S. Air Force is continuing to add new high-tech refueling tankers to its fleet, for the purpose of replacing aging Eisenhower-era KC-135s.
The KC-46s are new tankers, and are the most high-tech and capable globally.
Ongoing research and development enable frequent upgrades to the aircraft, ensuring its superiority for decades to come.
Tankers may not make headlines, but they’re vital force multipliers.
Tankers perform mid-air refueling, allowing warfighting aircraft in our arsenal to fly farther and longer without making extra trips back to a base to refuel.
This means our pilots can stay in the air and on target longer and our military aircraft have dramatically extended reach and range.
Fighters, bombers, transports, and reconnaissance aircraft alike benefit from combat-capable tankers to support their mission.
Aerial refueling, however, is no simple feat.
Two aircraft must fly about 75 feet apart at over 300 miles per hour.
The tanker then lowers a boom or extends a hose down to the receiving aircraft to allow fuel to flow into its fuel tanks. Refueling must frequently be performed in hostile airspace or challenging atmospheric conditions.
The KC-46 does just that — allowing over two dozen types of U.S. and allied aircraft to be refueled while flying anywhere in the world.
The modernized KC-46 can refuel a multitude of aircraft in our fleet — including the B-2, F-35, and V-22 Osprey — and does it more efficiently than any other tanker on the market. It has a high-tech refueling boom that can pump over 1,200 gallons of fuel a minute.
It can also be reconfigured in two hours or less to serve as a mobile hospital to transport wounded persons to full-scale hospitals, move large pallets of equipment and cargo that have strategic importance to our military, and carry up to 200 passengers during combat operations.
This versatility makes our military more capable while keeping costs lower for taxpayers.
Ultimately, it is estimated that the military will need over 400 of these tankers.
Though the KC-46 is the world’s most advanced and capable tanker, it is still being constantly upgraded to keep it at the top of its game.
For example, in the original Eisenhower-era tankers, operators would look out a window at the back of the aircraft and manually extend or retract a boom tube or hose drum to connect with the receiving aircraft.
The new, high-tech KC-46 tanker has an array of sensors and cameras – a Remote Vision System, or RVS – that allows the refueling to be controlled from a work station just behind the cockpit of the jet.
A further update to RVS will be fielded in the next couple years and won’t cost the Pentagon or the taxpayer a dime – Boeing will cover 100% of retrofitting costs.
This upgrade will include state-of-the-art 4K cameras and new curved color displays that will allow the operator to refuel aircraft even in adverse conditions, including blinding direct sunlight, glare, or complete darkness.
This technology and these upgrades have been developed in consultation with warfighters who fly and operate tankers and who described the historic difficulties in the refueling process.
Including the warfighter in the development and upgrade process ensures the Air Force has superior tools and technology to overcome real-life challenges and difficulties.
The KC-46 is precisely what our warfighters need to prepare for future conflict.
It provides them with tremendous versatility and efficiency and it has the latest and greatest technology to keep the plane and its crew safe when in reach of our enemies.
The U.S. and allies will be able to fly the KC-46 for many decades to come and it will serve our nation and our warfighters capably.
George Landrith has served as president of Frontiers of Freedom, since 1998. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics.To learn more about Frontiers of Freedom, visit www.ff.org. Read George Landrith's Reports — More Here.
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