Air Force receives long-delayed Boeing tankers with ‘deficiencies’

Air Force receives long-delayed Boeing tankers with ‘deficiencies’
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The Air Force on Thursday received the first set of long-overdue tankers from Boeing, though the aircraft still have "deficiencies" that must be fixed, according to a spokesman.

“We have identified, and Boeing has agreed to fix at its expense, deficiencies discovered in developmental testing of the remote vision system,” Air Force spokesperson Capt. Hope Cronin said in a statement. “The Air Force has mechanisms in place to ensure Boeing meets its contractual obligations while we continue with initial operational testing and evaluation.”

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The KC-46A, an aerial refueling tanker, is meant to replace the Air Force’s aging KC-135 tanker fleet. Boeing beat out Airbus to win a $4.9 billion contract for the program in 2011, and the Air Force intends to buy 179 new aircraft — 52 of which Boeing is contracted to manufacture.

The program, however, has been plagued with cost overruns and schedule delays.

Delivery of the first four Pegasus tankers is coming more than two years behind schedule. And the camera system used in refueling operations could take years to fully fix.

But the Air Force is contractually authorized to withhold as much as $28 million per aircraft once they are delivered, as a way of putting pressure on Boeing to fix any shortcomings.

“The Department of Defense is in complete agreement regarding moving forward with delivery of KC-46 tankers,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement. “The department remains committed to providing the most cost-effective platforms for the U.S. taxpayer, while still delivering the best capabilities to our men and women serving in uniform.”

Boeing lauded the delivery of the aircraft, calling it an “exciting and historic day.”

“The KC-46A is a proven, safe, multi-mission aircraft that will transform aerial refueling and mobility operations for decades to come,” Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing’s defense business, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Air Force, and the Navy, during their initial operational test and evaluation of the KC-46, as we further demonstrate the operational capabilities of this next-generation aircraft across refueling, mobility and combat weapons systems missions.”