WASHINGTON — The KC-46 Pegasus is now able to refuel the Air Force’s fourth-generation fighter jets during missions for U.S. Transportation Command, expanding the service’s air refueling capacity and the capability of its newest tanker.
Air Mobility Command announced Friday the Pegasus has been approved to refuel all F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon variants during TRANSCOM-tasked missions under its third interim capability release approval.
The Air Force previously used the Pegasus’ boom to refuel F-15s and F-16s during non-TRANSCOM missions such as testing and training flights, AMC spokesman Col. Damien Pickart said. Those jets do not use drogue systems to refuel.
But this approval will allow the Pegasus to take on more missions the Air Force otherwise would have had to hand off to the KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender and lessen the burden on those older tankers, AMC said in a release.
“The KC-46 can now support 62 percent of all receiver aircraft that request air refueling support from USTRANSCOM,” said Brig. Gen. Ryan Samuelson, who is in charge of the KC-46 cross functional team, in the announcement. “This step forward accelerates the critical projection and connection warfighting requirements the Pegasus brings to the joint force, even before it’s fully operational.”
AMC Commander Gen. Mike Minihan on Wednesday signed off on the KC-46′s latest approval.
AMC last hit such a milestone in August, when the KC-46 was approved to refuel the B-52 Stratofortress, C-17 Globemaster and other Pegasus aircraft using its refueling boom.
And the first interim capability release decision in July cleared the Pegasus to refuel aircraft using its centerline drogue system.
The Air Force said it will continue to roll out additional expansions of the Pegasus’ capabilities as its ICR process unfolds, though it would not say how long it might take. The plan focuses on “establishing incremental confidence measures” that allow AMC’s commander and other senior leaders to assess how the Pegasus is doing.
The Pegasus has so far carried out more than 6,000 missions since January 2019. Over that period, it has refueled aircraft with more than 35 million pounds of fuel, and made about 26,000 boom and 1,500 drogue contacts with other aircraft.
The Pegasus has been working to resolve a series of technical problems throughout its troubled rollout. As of August, the aircraft had six Category 1 deficiencies, though the Air Force said it is working with Boeing to resolve some of these issues.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.