As the Air Force aims to maintain the aging KC-135, the service is seeking a slate of four upgrades to the aircraft that will shore up its mission capabilities until the fleet of nearly 400 Stratotankers can be fully divested.
Plans for the aircraft’s upgrades are detailed in the service’s research, development, test and evaluation budget justification documents for fiscal year 2023. Three of the four upgrades are new starts in FY-23; the application of the Mobile User Objective System, which upgrades communication capabilities across a range of aircraft, commenced in FY-20.
The three latest enhancements to the KC-135 consist of the onboarding of new advanced fuel management and flight display systems -- part of an initiative called Center Console Refresh, implementation of state-of-the-art high frequency radio equipment and replacement of the legacy ARC-210 very high frequency radio that is expected to become obsolete in October 2023, according to the documents.
The Air Force is currently pushing ahead with the Center Console Refresh initiative, and a request for information posted April 29 announced that an industry day for the project will be held on May 10 and 11. Responses are due May 4, according to the RFI.
The Stratotanker is scheduled to be replaced by the KC-46, but delays and defects with the Pegasus program have pushed back divestment. The suite of upgrades will allow the aircraft, which first deployed in 1956, to extend its service life as more KC-46s are delivered. The Air Force currently intends to maintain a small fleet of KC-135s until the 2050s.