05.22.20

Senators Lankford, Hassan, Shaheen Call for Oversight of KC-46 Aircraft Delays

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK –Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today called on the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate ongoing delays to the KC-46 aircraft program that are preventing the aircraft from being used in operational missions. Lankford and Hassan serve on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee—the top Senate oversight committee—and the GAO prioritizes requests from this committee.

The delays to the KC-46 aircraft program are due to a variety of issues, including several critical deficiencies with the remote vision system and the refueling boom, which affect aerial refueling operations. Until the KC-46s are operational, the Air Force may need to continue using refueling aircraft that are more than 60 years old to complete its missions.

In the letter the Senators wrote, “The KC-46 aerial refueling tanker modernization program, currently assessed at a cost of about $43 billion, is one of the Air Force’s highest acquisition priorities… The Air Force started accepting aircraft in January 2019 with these critical deficiencies. While the Air Force has already accepted over 30 aircraft, US Transportation Command has decided not to use the aircraft in operations until the critical deficiencies are fixed, which is not expected to occur until 2023.”

The Senators call on GAO to review the status of Boeing’s efforts to fix these deficiencies as well as the steps that US Transportation Command is taking to lessen the impact that the KC-46 program delays are having on the Air Force’s operations.

Last year, Altus Air Force Base welcomed its first KC-46 tanker, and Lankford joined state and federal leaders at the Base to commemorate the important day in the Base’s ongoing mission. Lankford worked to secure funding for the KC-46 in one of the two federal funding packages., which included funds for 12 more tankers in the next fiscal year for programs important at both Tinker and Altus Air Force Bases. Lankford also supported the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included authorization for the tankers.

To read the Senators’ letter, see below or CLICK HERE.

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

The KC-46 aerial refueling tanker modernization program, currently assessed at a cost of about $43 billion, is one of the Air Force’s highest acquisition priorities. The Air Force contracted with Boeing in 2011 to develop, test, and produce up to 179 aircraft. The first 18 KC-46 tankers were expected to be delivered by August 2017. However, the program experienced significant delays due to a variety of issues, including several critical deficiencies with the remote vision system and boom that affect aerial refueling operations. The Air Force started accepting aircraft in January 2019 with these critical deficiencies. While the Air Force has already accepted over 30 aircraft, U.S. Transportation Command has decided not to use the aircraft in operations until the critical deficiencies are fixed, which is not expected to occur until 2023. Instead, it plans to use legacy KC-10 and KC-135 aircraft, some of which are over 60 years old.

I am concerned about the progress Boeing is making on fixing the critical deficiencies and the effect program delays are having on aerial refueling operations. Therefore, the committee requests that GAO provide periodic assessments of the program until the critical deficiencies are fixed. The assessments should include topics such as: (1) the status of Boeing’s efforts to fix critical deficiencies; (2) steps US Transportation Command is taking to mitigate the operational effects of delays in KC-46 full operational capability; (3) considerations the Air Force is receiving from Boeing because of the delays; and (4) any other topics the Comptroller General believes would be useful for subcommittee consideration.

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