Boeing Fielding Increasing Interest Abroad In Cargo Role Of KC-46
SEATTLE—Boeing has been fielding increasing interest abroad in its KC-46A tanker, although several nations are inquiring about the aircraft’s ability to carry cargo, not fuel.
Since January 2020 six nations have asked Boeing about the aircraft’s capacity, with a focus increasingly on using it for cargo missions instead of as a tanker. Interest spiked after the COVID-19 outbreak as nations looked to increase their ability to deliver cargo. With production lines such as Boeing’s C-17 now closed, there are also not many other hot production lines making aircraft with substantial airlift capacity, says Mike Hafer, Boeing’s director of KC-46 business development.
The increased interest has also coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with NATO nations pledging to spend more on their militaries. Nations that were previously “lukewarm” about increasing spending have become more firm in their plans, Hafer says.
Hafer says Boeing has been asked if it can produce a cargo-only military version of the KC-46 without a boom. But the company will only sell the tanker in its current form, he said. It would be better for these nations to have the ability to conduct aerial refueling with the aircraft as delivered versus adding the capacity later on, Hafer said.
Boeing would not identify the countries that have reached out. Hafer says there are a limited number of nations that can afford to fly modern refueling and cargo aircraft like the KC-46.
The KC-46, which is based on Boeing’s 767-2C, has an airlift capacity of 65,000 lb. It has the ability to load palletized cargo through a large door to its deck on the side. The aircraft can carry 18 military-standard 463L cargo pallets.
Boeing’s Everett, Washington, facility is producing KC-46s at a rate of 12 per year. The 60th aircraft for the U.S. Air Force is nearly ready to be delivered to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in the coming days. This production rate could increase to about 17 per year and will carry through the Air Force’s program of record of 179 tankers through 2029, Hafer says. Boeing expects the production to continue with additional international orders.
So far, two KC-46s have been delivered to Japan out of the four it ordered in 2018. Israel has ordered eight tankers. Hafer says Boeing could likely sell about 42 more of the aircraft than are currently on its books.