KC-46 Pegasus deficiencies lead Air Force to call for interim tanker aircraft, could it be Airbus?

Firefighters from the 87th Civil Engineer Squadron examine the outside of a KC-46 Pegasus while attending a familiarization training for the aircraft at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., May 26, 2021. The 87th CES fire department, Security Forces and Aircrew Flight Equipment all visited the KC-46 to become better acquainted with the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Shay Stuart)

In light of the blighted KC-46 Pegasus saga of deficiencies, delays and rollout issues, the US Air Force is calling for a new interim tanker- one that may put Airbus in the inner circle.

As Boeing learns they will have to pay to fix two category 1 technical deficiencies, a push to replace the still-new Pegasus tankers has the American aerospace manufacturer facing competition.

This came as welcome news to Airbus, a European firm that has long tried to get in big on the US defense market.

Despite the opportunity, Boeing is confident that its near scandalous issues with the KC-46 would not affect the chances of winning the new KC-Y competition.

“That’s a lot of risk that’s been retired. These are identified issues that we’ve put to bed and we’re closing very rapidly with the other ones out there,” Boeing Global Sales and Marketing Lead Mike Hafer said. “This was an investment that the US Air Force has paid [and] is getting the capability they want and need.”

Hafer stated that the company knows what the DoD wants, and that gives them an edge.

“We’ve learned a lot and we’re going to focus on the Air Force’s needs, fulfilling the requirements of the contract, and providing exactly what the Air Force wants,” he told Defense News. “We’re ready to compete.”

Airbus’s A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport is a force to be reckoned with, despite being the unpopular foreign option.

However, as American defense companies continue to merge and deliver underwhelming products with costly delays, the idea of no longer “buying American” may become more easy to digest.

The KC-Y competition is in search of an interim tanker that would bridge the gap between KC-46 and the next-generation KC-Z tanker.

Republican Rep. Jerry Carl of the Alabama city of Mobile, where Airbus currently makes commercial planes, is thrilled with the idea of Airbus entering the industry, as their US facility is in his district. The congressman noted that American Air Force fighters operating in Europe regularly receive fuel from the A330 tankers of foreign nations.

“Knowing that we’ve got an aircraft that can be built in America, that could be already delivered because we’re up to about three a month coming out of Mobile right now -not this particular plane, but basically the same scale- why are we not bringing this back up for a bid?” he asked.

The 914th Air Refueling Wing’s 328th Air Refueling Squadron at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y. hosted the Air Force’s most modern tanker, the KC-46 Pegasus from the 931st ARS, McConnell AFB, Kansas, April 22, 2021. Aviators additionally practiced formation flying as they become more familiar with the new air frame. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Williams)


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