WASHINGTON Jan 29 U.S. Air Force and Boeing Co
officials on Wednesday expressed confidence that a $52
billion air refueling program would deliver its first 18 planes
by August 2017 as scheduled, despite a Pentagon report warning
that testing of the new aircraft could be delayed by at least
six to 12 months.
The tanker project known as KC-46, one of the Pentagon's
biggest arms programs, calls for Boeing to build 179 new planes
for the Air Force to replace the current fleet of 50-year-old
KC-135 tankers. The planes are used to refuel fighter jets and
other warplanes during flight.
Air Force and Boeing officials have said the program is
making good progress, with the last of four test planes to be
completed this year.
But a report released Wednesday by the Pentagon's chief
weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, said Boeing and the Air Force
needed more time to complete developmental testing and initial
training before operational testing.
"The KC-46 development test program is aggressive but
achievable," said Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick in a statement,
responding to the new Pentagon report.
He said a recent risk assessment by the Air Force's KC-46
program office found that Boeing had a "greater than 90 percent
probability" of meeting its contractual obligation to deliver 18
jets by August 2017.
Boeing said the program was hitting all its milestones.
"We remain confident in our plan to support Initial
Operational Test & Evaluation for the KC-46A tanker and we
continue to meet our contractual requirements," said spokesman
Jerry Drelling. "We have a valid flight test plan in place and
... remain on plan to deliver the first 18 combat-ready tankers
to the U.S. Air Force by 2017."
Gulick said the Air Force planned to begin initial
operational testing of the new jets, which are based on Boeing's
767 commercial airliners, in May 2016.
He said a number of measures had been put in place to lower
the risk of delays, including agreements with outside agencies
and use of Boeing's vast commercial flight test resources.
The program is also using a "Test Once" concept based on
Boeing's commercial practices, under which flight tests satisfy
different requirements mapped out by Boeing, the Federal
Aviation Administration, developmental testers and, where it
makes sense, operational testers.
Boeing has delivered more than a thousand 767s worldwide.
The KC-46 tanker program has been closely scrutinized since
its decade-long contest with France's Airbus and an
ethics scandal resulted in two Boeing officials getting
sentenced to prison in 2004.