Meta Aerospace announced it received the first of four former Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Boeing KC-135R refueling aircraft it acquired. The private tanker fleet will be used to fill the United States Air Force (USAF) capacity gap caused by the multiple deficiencies and delays of the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus.

In 2014, the RSAF placed an order for six A330 MRTT new generation aerial refuelers, becoming one of the eight operators to select the aircraft. All six of them have since been delivered, effectively replacing the capacity of the Boeing KC-135R fleet.

On September 30, 2020, the Washington D.C.-based company Meta Aerospace announced acquiring the four former RSAF KC-135R, and that the first tanker was successfully ferried from Singapore to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California. The delivery of the remaining three should be received between October and November 2020. “With its extensive defense-as-a-service offerings and air mobility experience, this addition of four KC-135R aircraft enables Meta to deliver turnkey aerial refueling services to meet our U.S. Government customer’s requirements,” said the company in a statement.

Addressing the capacity gap

As it is, the USAF is struggling with its aerial refueling capacities, both for its own needs and those of its allies. Speaking at the Atlantic Council in January 2020, General Stephen R. Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said the U.S. military was “exceeding the red line“. The capacity gap jeopardizes the projection capacity needed to answer to Chinese and Russian ambition.

The KC-46 Pegasus was supposed to replace the KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender and reinforce the thin-stretched refueling capacities, with the entire KC-10 fleet to be withdrawn within the next five years. But the aircraft has encountered numerous technical problems since its delivery, including three “critical deficiencies” that could take years to fix.

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The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tanker is marred by yet another technical problem. The United States Air Force has logged a third Category I deficiency, this time reporting fuel leaks.
 

Consequently, the Pentagon is reviewing the involvement of the U.S. military abroad and could disengage from certain deployments, such as the refueling and transport support it provides to France, which is currently engaged in Operation Barkhane against Islamist insurgents in Mali. 

To address the capacity gap that the KC-46 Pegasus has yet to fill, Lyons suggested using private contractors. The idea of leasing aerial refueling services could be a way to reduce stress.

In December 2018, Lockheed Martin and Airbus signed a memorandum of agreement to jointly explore opportunities to meet the growing demand for aerial refueling for US defense customers, most likely by relying on the Airbus A330 MRTT. Contacted by AeroTime, both manufacturers said the prospect was still being studied. “We continue to work together to define a path to support the U.S. Air Force and their tanker mission and look forward to reviewing an RFP when released,” they said.

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One company's demise is another one's opportunity. Or in this case, two companies. Lockheed Martin and Airbus signed a memorandum of agreement to “jointly explore opportunities to meet the growing demand for aerial refueling for US defense customers.” The manufacturers are taking advantage of the difficulties encountered by Boeing's KC-46A Pegasus.