The United States Air Force has reached two agreements with Boeing, one regarding the final corrections to the Remote Vision System of the KC-46A Pegasus tankers and the second about the release of $882 million in payments that had been withheld due to the technical problems affecting the refuellers.
In January 2019, the United States Air Force received its first two Boeing refuellers after a two-year delay. But the delivered aircraft were affected by a series of issues, ranging from critical technical setbacks to foreign object debris found in wing compartments.
One of three reported crucial deficiencies of the KC-46A affected the “Remote Vision System” (RVS), developed by Rockwell Collins. The sensors and cameras that should help a boom operator during aerial refueling do not work as intended, especially under certain light conditions. The problem was defined as a Category I deficiency, meaning it could cause severe damage when operating the aircraft.
A new version, called RVS 2.0, should address this problem. “RVS 2.0 will include 4K color cameras with proper viewing geometry, operator stations with larger screens, a laser ranger for refueling aircraft distance measurement and boom assistance augmented reality,” announced the Air Force in a statement, adding “with the help of scientists and engineers from both enterprises, the Air Force will lead design reviews and approve specifications to drive the partnership toward initial fielding in 2023.”
Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Leanne Caret welcomed the new agreement, saying it “takes advantage of new remote vision systems technologies that are orders of magnitude better than what was available when the program started.”
Despite the numerous shortcomings documented over time, Boeing still sees their KC-46A tankers as a gold standard for the industry. “The investments we continue to make in the KC-46 clearly demonstrate Boeing’s commitment to Pegasus being the standard by which all future refueling aircraft are measured,” the company stated.
The other agreement will see the Pentagon release $882 million in withheld payments to ease the financial strain on Boeing due to the coronavirus epidemic. The money had been held back due to the non-compliance of 33 delivered KC-46. The USAF said it was in line with the current “policies to maximize cash flow, where prudent, to combat coronavirus impacts on the industry base.”
The economic fallout from the coronavirus comes as a new blow to Boeing, already caught in the 737 MAX crisis. On April 2, 2020, the manufacturer offered its employees a voluntary departure plan that includes early retirements in an effort to save cash. It also requested a financial assistance of at least $60 million from the federal government to deal with the pandemic, a measure supported by President Donald Trump.