Boeing plays it cool on USAF tanker
Boeing officials continue to be confident that they will be able to meet the tight time lines for delivering the next generation KC-46 air tanker to the US Air Force (USAF), despite the challenges of developing and integrating the various components of the system.
The company and the USAF remain tight-lipped about many of the exact details of the aircraft, which is baselined on the commercial 767 design. According to Boeing, further details of the aircraft will be revealed once the detailed requirements work has been completed.
Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, told Shephard that he was confident that both the company and the USAF customer were closely aligned in how they see those requirements.
As part of its rebid for the tanker competition Boeing committed to a $3.5 billion firm, fixed price contract for the development and delivery of the first 18 aircraft combat ready by 2017 and any changes to the baseline requirement could be costly for the programme. However, Muilenburg said that he did not anticipate any significant changes to the baseline aircraft proposed to the USAF although he would not be drawn on details.
The company has stated that it will not talk details until after the systems requirement review. 'With all the scrutiny that the air force tanker has had, we want to be unbelievably sure that as we move forward that here is the path we're going, and here is the information and insight,' stated Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Airplanes.
The company's recent experience on tanker programmes has not been good with a number of difficulties in delivering aircraft to both the Italian Air Force and the Japanese Air Self Defence Force.
'Admittedly it's been a challenging programme but we're now nearing the finish line. There have been some lessons learned from both those programmes,' Muilenburg acknowledged.
'What we have done is taken those lessons learned and rolled them directly in to our KC-46 programme,' he continued. The four key lessons for Boeing include: having a clear understanding of the requirements up front; having those requirements communicated down to suppliers clearly so that there are no gaps in the requirements; ensuring the use of mature technologies; and keeping tight control of changes.
However, there are concerns that Boeing may be understating the risk in developing the KC-46, especially as it has been unable to disclose further details on the aircraft. One of the key challenges will be integrating a large display '787 type' flight deck with the 767-2C airframe.
'In this case it's really focused on the systems integration... it is taking existing subsystems and putting them in to the aircraft,' Muilenburg stated. ‘There is some development work to do there, which is well understood work. It's not risky work.'
Looking beyond the USAF programme, Muilenburg said that he anticipated that there would be an international market for tankers that would build on the KC-46 work. He said that he believed the design would be identical or similar to the USAF configuration. However, he added: ‘Right now we are very focused on executing the air force programme successfully, but when we do that then we do think that will generate some international opportunities.'
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