Everstine confirmed that the RVS 2.0 is now undergoing its preliminary design review, and that Air Mobility Command is “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome.
Under a 2020 agreement with Boeing, the manufacturer is covering all the costs of developing and installing the RVS 2.0, but it won’t actually begin to be fitted to new-build aircraft until 2023, while retrofitting of previously delivered aircraft will begin a year after that. As well as the new RVS, the fixes provide a modified boom to address the aforementioned stiffness problem.
During the same Air Mobility Command exercise, A-10 attack jets couldn’t be refueled at all. The KC-46 is still awaiting clearance to provide this platform with fuel, due to a separate and long-running “stiff boom” problem, which runs the risk of damaging the receiving aircraft.
Just today, it emerged that the ongoing effort to redesign the boom, costing $100 million, could likely have been avoided had the Air Force taken note of problems that had emerged much earlier in the program.
Alarmingly, a technology readiness assessment (TRA) — which assesses the maturity of critical hardware and software technologies — also revealed that Boeing engineers used no new or novel technology in the design of the boom because the design was “based on that of the well-proven KC-10 [refueling boom] and the control laws [were] based on the Italian KC-767A and Japanese KC-767J control laws.”
“We reviewed the preliminary design review documentation and found that it showed a refueling boom design that differed significantly from the proposed design that the independent review team documented in the TRA report,” the Pentagon’s Inspector General states in a recent report into the KC-46 program.
Meanwhile, with RVS 2.0 still some way off, Boeing has developed an interim ‘RVS 1.5’ to enhance image quality on the boom operator’s screens, but the aircraft used in Mobility Guardian 2021 had the original system installed. Meanwhile, the 1.5 version doesn’t do anything to address blinds spots or other factors.
As we have pointed out before, even having aircraft on the ramp fully modified with the definitive RVS 2.0 doesn’t mean that they will immediately be declared fully operational and ready for combat missions. After all, the relevant personnel will have to be trained to use it.
Until that happens, however, the KC-46’s utility will inevitably continue to be limited.
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