Int’l Defence Review
27 April 2017
The US Air Force (USAF) has completed a six-year upgrade programme for the McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender aerial refuelling fleet, with delivery of the final aircraft back to Travis Air Force Base (AFB) in California.
Delivery of the 59th and final KC-10A to go through the flight management system modification process that began in 2011 took place on 28 March but was not announced by the USAF until 19 April.
As noted by the USAF, the modification involved replacing the legacy Flight Management System (FMS) 800 with the new Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system, which “modernises the aircraft, increases mission effectiveness, and improves fuel efficiency.”
“The previous FMS 800 system used gyroscopes to display functions and status of the aircraft, such as the accelerometer. These gyroscopes would often overheat and require maintenance,” the USAF said, adding, “The CNS/ATM replaces the old gyroscopes with an infrared laser system. The system increases accuracy while generating significantly less heat, which in turn increases fuel efficiency for the aircraft.”
The modernisation work took place at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma, and took several months for each aircraft to be completed.
The USAF currently fields 510 tankers in the form of 59 McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extenders; 342 Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers; 54 KC-135T Stratotankers; 18 Lockheed Martin MC-130H Combat Talon IIs; and 37 MC-130J Commando IIs. Even with the MC-130H/Js that are reserved for special mission duties, this is only about half of the capacity that the commander of the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) says is needed.
Speaking before Congress in April, General Darren McDew went so far as to say that the shortfall in the USAF’s air-to-air refuelling capacity is causing him ‘to lose sleep at night’.
As such and noting a 14-month delay to the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, Gen McDew said that plans to retire the KC-10A from 2019 to 2024 are being reconsidered.