Unlike legacy tankers, where boom operators can look out a window in the back of the aircraft and rely on visual cues to steer the boom, operators in the KC-46 are completely dependent on the imagery provided by the RVS.
Although Air Force operators say the system works in most conditions — and provides a safer way to offload fuel during nighttime conditions or bad weather — certain lighting conditions can cause the RVS imagery to appear warped and misleading, contributing to cases where the boom accidentally scrapes the surface of another aircraft. That could be a safety hazard for the pilot of the plane receiving gas, and it could also potentially scrape the stealth coating off a low observable jet, eroding its ability to evade radar detection.
Under the terms of Boeing’s fixed-price firm contract and previous agreements with the service, the company will be financially responsible for paying for the entirety of the redesign effort. The company has already exceeded the $4.9 billion ceiling on the contract, and has paid more than $3.5 billion in cost overruns as technical problems have mounted.
Boeing is the system integrator for the RVS and designs its software, while the system’s cameras and sensors are primarily designed by Collins Aerospace.
Air Force’s acquisition executive Will Roper is expected to brief congressional staff on the deal this afternoon, sources said. Afterwards, the service is expected to release additional information about the deal.
Boeing delivered the first KC-46 tanker to McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., in January 2019, but the Air Force has withheld $28 million per aircraft upon delivery due to the RVS issues. So far, the company has delivered 33 tankers to the service.