AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar –
Approximately 100 Airmen and four KC-46A Pegasus aircraft conducted 24-hour operations during Air Mobility Command’s multi-week Employment Concept Exercise 22-08 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, from August 27 through mid-September, 2022.
Airmen from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and 931st Air Refueling Wing participated in the ECE, working in two teams to operate around-the-clock, testing the KC-46A’s ability to support real-world missions and assess its capabilities on the path to full-operational status.
On Aug. 29, the KC-46A Pegasus completed its first operationally-tasked combat sortie, refueling two F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
“The CENTCOM ECE allowed us to stress-test the KC-46A in an extreme desert environment while completing operational missions in support of a combatant command,” said Lt. Col. Josh Renfro, AMC KC-46 Cross-Functional Team deputy.
The ECEs, coupled with ICR, reflect a risk-informed, data-driven, constraint-analyzed approach to releasing KC-46A operational capabilities to the Joint Force, he added.
All four aircraft operated out of Al Udeid Air Base, with three of the KC-46As focused on completing aerial refueling missions and a fourth aircraft on alert in the event of a grounded aircraft, simultaneously testing the limits of the aircraft in the extreme desert climate.
“This ECE gave AMC valuable data needed to meet aircraft-turn times, maintenance requirements, and engineering dispositions, and provided output for air refueling as needed while we continued to refine the aircraft performance parameters,” said Renfro. “It also allowed AMC to gain a deeper understanding of how best to employ and deploy the KC-46A in future operations.”
During their time at Al Udeid Air Base, leaders from Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central), 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and a variety of other squadrons from around the base visited the Air Force’s newest air refueling platform.
“This was my first time flying on the KC-46 and seeing it in action was very impressive,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Nelson, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “The onboard systems provide great situational awareness of the surrounding area to the crew, and watching the boom operator accomplish air refueling using the remote vision system was equally impressive.”
Employment Concept Exercises are a subset of the KC-46A Interim Capability Release plan that allows AMC to employ the KC-46A in different scenarios for further operational employment testing and evaluation. The ECEs allow AMC to rapidly gather actionable data on the KC-46A’s performance in various scenarios, increasing operational capability to the tanker fleet requirements and increased tanker capacity.
Over the past 16 months, the KC-46A has demonstrated growing operational capacity at a swift pace. In May 2021, the KC-46A was not cleared to operationally support any U.S. Transportation Command missions. Through the Interim Capability Release plan and dedicated work by members of the growing KC-46A community, the KC-46A is now cleared for worldwide deployments to meet the daily Joint Force air refueling demands as tasked by U.S. Transportation Command.