The KC-46A will replace the Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. Gen. Paul Selva warned that sequestration could affect the KC-46 contract. (Boeing)
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ORLANDO, Fla. — The head of U.S. Air Force Mobility Command acknowledged that the Air Force may have to renegotiate its KC-46 contract due to sequestration, but he said the service would try desperately to avoid that move.
"It is possible we will have to reopen the contract, although we will do everything we can not to," Gen. Paul Selva said at Thursday's Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium here. "We literally have to run out of money" for the contract to be recompeted, he added.
When asked whether the Air Force had opened preliminary discussions with Boeing in case there had to be a renegotiation, Selva said, "No. None that I know of.
"From my perspective as the customer, my expectation is four airplanes on a fixed timeline," Selva said. "If Boeing has to invest Boeing money to make that work, that's Boeing's choice."
Budget uncertainty aside, Selva said he was pleased with the pace of the KC-46.
"All of the assessments I've seen and the discussions I've had with representatives from Boeing, and the test community as well, is that the maturation of the technologies that would be put on the airplane are moving along well, that the integration of those technologies onto the airplane is moving apace," Selva said. "All of that is moving along according to the previously agreed-to schedule.
"Given the maturation of the hardware and the airplane so far, and the relationship that's already been built with Boeing … I don't see us moving to another provider," Selva said.
But he emphasized that the KC-46 purchase is just the first of a three-step program to replace the Air Force's 400-plus KC-135 tankers. When the KC-46 buy ends, a choice could be made to move to a different airplane if need be.
‘Everything Else Is on the Table'
Selva laid out what he called "non-negotiable" missions — moving the president, vice president and Cabinet members around the globe; being able to move the nuclear stockpile; and being able to move certain parts of the military force.
He also listed supporting troops in Afghanistan but noted he had some ability to manipulate funds for that purpose.
After those priorities, though, "everything else is on the table," according to Selva. That includes KC-135 refueling flights inside the continental U.S. and C-17 continuation training, which Selva said would leave a third of the C-17s and almost the entire kc-135 fleet reduced to "basic mission readiness."
Selva also said he could see no scenario in which the Air Force reverses course and decides to keep the C-27. Although the planes are "no longer viable" for the service, he said there have been preliminary discussions about who might be interested in taking the cargo planes on.
Non-military functions, such as the role the Air Force plays in fighting large forest fires, would also be impacted, according to Selva.
As with other top DoD officials, Selva worried about the impact sequestration is having on the rank and file.
"I'd say morale is high, but there is concern over the path we'll have to take to negotiate the next few months of pretty serious uncertainty," he said.