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April 1, 2020 | International, Aerospace

The Air Force’s KC-46 tanker has another serious technical deficiency, and Boeing is stuck paying for it

By: Valerie Insinna

WASHINGTON — The Air Force on Monday logged another critical technical flaw for the KC-46 tanker, this time revolving around excessive fuel leaks.

Under its contract with the service, KC-46 manufacturer Boeing is responsible for paying for a fix to the problem, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Cara Bousie said in a statement.

“The Air Force and Boeing are working together to determine the root cause and implement corrective actions,” she said. “The KC-46 program office continues to monitor the entire KC-46 fleet and is enhancing acceptance testing of the fuel system to identify potential leaks at the factory where they can be repaired prior to delivery.”

The problem was first discovered in July 2019, but the Air Force did not say why the issue had been escalated to Category 1 status — the designation given to problems with a significant impact on operations or safety. The service also did not immediately comment on questions about what sort of receiver aircraft were most involved with the deficiency or the severity of the problem.

A Boeing spokesman said that the Air Force had discovered 16 aircraft in need of repair, and that seven have already been fixed.

“The KC-46 fuel system is equipped with redundant protection for fuel containment. In some cases with this issue, aircraft maintenance crews are finding fuel between the primary and secondary fuel protection barriers within the system,” the company said in a statement.

Boeing is working with “utmost urgency” to address the problem and implement a fix to the remaining aircraft, the statement said. A Boeing spokesman added it would take about 10 days to retrofit each aircraft at the rapid response depot facility in San Antonio, Texas. The fix was also being incorporated into production line in Everett, Wash., which is currently undergoing a temporary suspension due to COVID-19.

The latest Category 1 deficiency brings the total up to four:

  • The tanker's remote vision system or RVS — the camera system that allows KC-46 boom operators to steer the boom into a receiver aircraft without having to look out a window and use visual cues — provides imagery in certain lighting conditions that appears warped or misleading. Boeing has agreed to pay for potentially extensive hardware and software fixes, but the Air Force believes it will system won't be fully functional until 2023-2024.
  • The Air Force has recorded instances of the boom scraping against the airframe of receiver aircraft. Boeing and the Air Force believe this problem is a symptom of the RVS's acuity problems and will be eliminated once the camera system is fixed.
  • Boeing must redesign the boom to accommodate the A-10, which currently does not generate the thrust necessary to push into the boom for refueling. This problem is a requirements change by the Air Force, which approved Boeing's design in 2016. Last year, Boeing received a $55.5 million contract to begin work on the new boom actuator.

Boeing's fixed-priced firm contract for the development of the KC-46 has a $4.9 billion ceiling that leaves the company responsible for any expenses billed in excess of that amount. So far, the company has paid more than $3.5 billion of its own money to fund corrections to ongoing technical issues.

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    August 7, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    Eastern European NATO allies ramp up drone buys to protect their borders

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In Romania, local analysts say the country's Ministry of National Defence aims to boost the military's surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence (SRI) capabilities by acquiring new drones, ensuring the country's armed forces can efficiently monitor Romanian borders. “Romania wants to increase its SRI capacity in the Black Sea, taking into account that the militarization of the region by Russia is intensively continuing,” George Scutaru, head of the Bucharest-based New Strategy Center think tank and a former member of parliament and government adviser, told Defense News. “At the end of last April, the joint Defense Committees of the Romanian parliament adopted the request of the Ministry of National Defence to start the procurement procedures for five new programs, including the acquisition of UAV systems. Within this program, an acquisition of seven tactical-operative UAV systems is to be carried out.” Romania's previous attempt at purchasing drones for its military came in 2018 under a procedure to buy tactical UAVs for some 250 million lei (U.S. $56 million). The bidders included American firm AAI Corporation, Israel's Aeronautics Limited, BlueBird Aero Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as Romanian company Ymens Teamnet. However, a Romanian court canceled the tender after some bidders filed complaints. George Visan, the coordinator of the Black Sea Security Program at the Bucharest-based think tank Romania Energy Center, told Defense News it was “known that Romania would like to acquire at least six medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs as well as a number of smaller tactical UAVs.” Similarly to the failed drone tender from 2018, the new competition is expected to attract bids from the United States, Israeli and Romanian companies. Anticipating the forthcoming procedure, last May, Israel's Elbit Systems signed a memorandum of understanding with local state-run aircraft companies Avioane Craiova and Romaero. “Elbit Systems can easily sell in Romania what it manufactures in Israel, but depending on the order, it is willing to integrate and transfer production here. Avioane Craiova used to produce trainers, IAR-99 aircraft and aero-structures for various manufacturers,” Visan said. The analyst says that, in parallel to its drone procurement programs, the ministry is also funding the development of two UAVs, the medium-range Ultra-20 VTOL and the combat Ultra-20 V drone, by the state-run Research Agency for Military Hardware and Technologies, hoping to secure foreign partners and ensure transfer of technology. “This doesn't preclude other acquisitions,” Visan said. Poland eyes combat, surveillance drones Meanwhile, Poland's Ministry of Defence is developing several acquisition programs to acquire UAVs. To date, the ministry has ordered short-range drones and mini drones, with more programs to procure surveillance and combat drones underway. “In the long-term, the Polish Armed Forces are planning to acquire about a dozen sets of mid-range UAVs under the Gryf program, several MALE combat-reconnaissance UAVs under the Zefir program, and vertical take-off and landing short-range UAVs for the navy under the Albatros program,” a spokesperson for the Polish ministry told Defense News. In 2018 and 2019, Polish privately-owned defense company WB Group secured two orders to deliver a total of 48 mini-drones to the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF), a military branch which comprises volunteers. “We have supplied two types of drones to the Polish military. The first one is FlyEye which, in addition to the TDF, is also used by the artillery forces and special forces in Poland. It can be used in a variety of missions, including reconnaissance, artillery guidance, search and resuce, but also to extend the range of battle management systems. This drone can guide missiles, becoming the heart of an anti-tank system. We have developed FlyEye for more than ten years, and new variants continue to be designed,” company spokesman Remigiusz Wilk told Defense News. “The second one is Warmate which combines reconnaissance capabilities and combat capacities as loitering munition, owing to which it's a highly precise weapon system.” WB Group is also exporting its drones, with Warmate's deliveries to four allies carried out through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. Most recently, the manufacturer established a subsidiary in Ukraine where its UAVs have been operated by the country's military. “Our drones are combat-proven, and to date, not a single one has been lost over Ukrainian skies carrying out hundreds of challenging missions,” Wilk said. Other countries in the region that plan to acquire drones include the Czech Republic. Last November, Czech President Milos Zeman spurred controversy when he called on the government to buy Israeli UAVs for the armed forces. Combat drones are to be acquired under the country's military modernization program 2027, worth 100 billion koruna (U.S. $4.25 billion).

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