WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) led Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and James Lankford (R-OK) in calling on the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to investigate ongoing delays to the KC-46 aircraft program that are preventing the aircraft from being used in operational missions, including at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire. Senators Hassan and Lankford serve on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – the top Senate oversight committee – and the Government Accountability Office 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, 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.”
In their letter, the Senators call on the Government Accountability Office to review the status of Boeing’s efforts to fix these deficiencies as well as the steps that U.S. Transportation Command is taking to lessen the impact that the KC-46 program delays are having on the Air Force’s operations.
Senators Hassan and Shaheen have worked to support Pease Air National Guard Base and secure necessary investments in equipment and funding to help the Air Base continue its critical mission. Thanks to strong advocacy by Senator Shaheen, then-Governor Hassan, and the New Hampshire National Guard, Pease was selected as the Air Force’s first Air National Guard KC-46 main operating base, an economic benefit to Pease and the surrounding community. In the most recent government funding legislation signed into law, Senator Shaheen – also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – fought to procure 12 KC-46 Pegasus refueling tankers, with the support of Senator Hassan. Additionally, Senators Hassan and Shaheen worked with the rest of the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation to secure critical funding for construction projects at Pease, including reconstructing Pease’s runways and expanding the airport’s terminals to accommodate more customers. The last KC-135 departed Pease in March to make way for the KC-46. Shaheen and Hassan participated in the arrival event for the first KC-46 to Pease in August.
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.
We are 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 U.S. 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.