Approximately 100 Airmen and four KC-46A Pegasus aircraft conducted 24-hour operations during Air Mobility Command’s multi-week Employment Concept Exercise 22-08 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, from Aug. 27 through mid-September, 2022.
As told by Airman 1st Class Brenden Beezley, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs, in the article KC-46A performs first operationally-tasked combat refueling sortie, Airmen from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and 931st Air Refueling Wing participated in the ECE, working in two teams to operate around-the-clock, testing the KC-46A’s ability to support real-world missions and assess its capabilities on the path to full-operational status.
On Aug. 29, the KC-46A Pegasus completed its first operationally-tasked combat sortie, refueling two F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
“The CENTCOM ECE allowed us to stress-test the KC-46A in an extreme desert environment while completing operational missions in support of a combatant command,” said Lt. Col. Josh Renfro, AMC KC-46 Cross-Functional Team deputy.
The ECEs, coupled with ICR, reflect a risk-informed, data-driven, constraint-analyzed approach to releasing KC-46A operational capabilities to the Joint Force, he added.
All four aircraft operated out of Al Udeid Air Base, with three of the KC-46As focused on completing aerial refueling missions and a fourth aircraft on alert in the event of a grounded aircraft, simultaneously testing the limits of the aircraft in the extreme desert climate.
During their time at Al Udeid Air Base, leaders from Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central), 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and a variety of other squadrons from around the base visited the Air Force’s newest air refueling platform.
“This was my first time flying on the KC-46 and seeing it in action was very impressive,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Nelson, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “The onboard systems provide great situational awareness of the surrounding area to the crew, and watching the boom operator accomplish air refueling using the remote vision system was equally impressive.”
Employment Concept Exercises are a subset of the KC-46A Interim Capability Release plan that allows AMC to employ the KC-46A in different scenarios for further operational employment testing and evaluation. The ECEs allow AMC to rapidly gather actionable data on the KC-46A’s performance in various scenarios, increasing operational capability to the tanker fleet requirements and increased tanker capacity.
Over the past 16 months, the KC-46A has demonstrated growing operational capacity at a swift pace. In May 2021, the KC-46A was not cleared to operationally support any US Transportation Command missions. Through the Interim Capability Release plan and dedicated work by members of the growing KC-46A community, the KC-46A is now cleared to operationally refuel 97 percent of the daily Joint Force air refueling demands as tasked by US Transportation Command.
The KC-46A represents the beginning of a new era in air-to-air refueling capability for the joint force. The aircraft has been in development since Feb. 24, 2011, and its initial flight occurred in Dec 2014. The current contract, with options, provides Air Mobility Command an inventory of 179 KC-46A tankers. The first KC-46A was delivered to McConnell AFB, Kansas on Jan 25, 2019. The aircraft is will soon undergo operational test and evaluation on the way to initial operating capability.
The KC-46A is the first phase in recapitalizing the U.S. Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. With greater refueling, cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities compared to the KC-135, the KC-46A will provide next generation aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and partner-nation receivers.
Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Brenden Beezley / U.S. Air Force
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