The US Air Force has accepted to accept the first flawed batch of Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers on Thursday, a little over a week after an ex-Boeing employee of 30 years took the helm as acting Secretary of Defense.
The KC-46A is deemed “ready to go,” despite being years behind schedule, a financial drain for Boeing and unable to flawlessly refuel aircraft in mid-air, an important trait for aircraft designed to refuel other aircraft while in flight.
In response to the deficiencies, the Air Force has announced that it will hold onto $28 million for every plane, which comes out to around $1.5 billion when all 52 aircraft are factored in.
According to the Washington Post, the tanker aircraft are ready to begin operational testing.
The news of the acquisition and rollout comes on the 10th day of Patrick Shanahan’s tenure as acting Defense Secretary, raising concerns about his thirty or so years with the Boeing company.
Given the helm after former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned from his position, Shanahan’s Boeing ties come across as suspicious to many, particularly given the half-baked nature of the Boeing KC-46A rollout.
The Washington Examiner reported that Shanahan signed an ethics agreement recusing himself from Boeing-related matters, though he has allegedly talked fondly of the company during internal meetings and slammed competitor Lockheed Martin for their poor work with the F-35 Lightning II, another expensive aircraft that has historically had trouble doing the very tasks it was initially designed for.
Shanahan reportedly said the F-35 was “f***ed up,” noting that “if it had gone to Boeing, it would be doing much better.”
While the tanker has issues with the boom and system that allows crews to observe it, the Air Force claims the tanker is capable of refueling in mid air and that deficiencies will be fixed within three to four years.
“The Air Force has determined that these deficiencies do not prevent the tanker from carrying out its primary mission,” the Air Force said in a statement.
Boeing’s cost overruns related to the project involve a considerable amount of money, with an October earnings call revealing that over $140 million was paid for out of pocket in that quarter alone, with around $3.6 billion doled out by the company to pay for the project.
“They can buy their way into defense programs, and they did that here,” Teal Group aerospace consultant Richard Aboulafia said.
The company’s airline division helped alleviate the pain of KC-46A cost overruns, though the production process in and of itself has been littered with controversy for some time.
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