Cover: Improving Acquisition and Sustainment Outcomes for Military Commercial Derived Aircraft

Improving Acquisition and Sustainment Outcomes for Military Commercial Derived Aircraft

The KC-46A Pegasus Experience

Published Nov 21, 2023

by Benjamin J. Sacks, Obaid Younossi, Brittany Clayton

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Research Questions

  1. Will FAA certification help the KC-46A when parts are needed over time?
  2. What changes are needed for data investments for military commercially derived aircraft to remain successful?
  3. What is the most cost-efficient sustainment approach?

The KC-46A Pegasus is designed to refuel any fixed-wing U.S. Air Force (USAF) aircraft capable of aerial refueling, as well as many fixed-wing aircraft of allies and partners. It provides fuel through three system types: a centerline boom modified from the KC-10; a centerline hose and drogue system; and two Wing Air Refueling Pods, each with hose and drogue systems. The KC-46A can be configured in a variety of refueling, passenger, and cargo combinations through continuous tracks running through the aircraft.

The authors of this report examine improvement in acquisition and sustainment of military commercial derived aircraft using a case study of the KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tanker. This report begins with a brief review of the troubled early history of the KC-46A program, focusing on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification, data rights, and organic-oriented life cycle sustainment, and provides lessons learned to improve future acquisition and sustainment outcomes. The KC-46A is intended to gradually replace the Air Force's aging KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender.

This is a companion report to another 2023 report, Life Cycle Management of Military Commercial Derivative Aircraft: Improving FAA Certification, Implementation of Digital Engineering and Sustainment Strategy.

Key Findings

  • Data investments for military commercially derived aircraft typically span stakeholders and those efforts must be synchronized and coordinated to be successful.
  • Planning for digital engineering and data right efforts should begin when forming an acquisition strategy.
  • When considering the platform's mission and modifications from the base design, more modifications might complicate the process.
  • Begin discussions with partners as early as possible in the program to better guide its development, set realistic expectations, and agree on responsibilities of all parties.
  • The Air Force sought FAA certification, but complexities and setbacks emerged, lengthening the process. The original equipment manufacturer's delivery schedule was too aggressive.
  • The decision to maintain organic-oriented sustainment versus contractor logistics support sustainment could pay dividends.
  • USAF-organic depots can meet USAF surge needs when necessary and on the Air Force's schedule while achieving the intent of FAA sustainment (i.e., meet FAA safety thresholds) and enabling the Air Force to still access the global 767 parts pool.
  • Application of commercial airline sustainment practices, namely designated engineering representative repairs and using manufacturer-approved parts from third parties, may be a cost-efficient approach.
  • Specifying data requirements, such as the level-of-repair analysis, within future contract requirements lists can help mitigate risk and cost.

Research conducted by

This report was prepared for the Department of the Air Force and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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