Boeing KC-46 Tanker

Product Type:

Aerial Refueling Aircraft

Using Service (US):

Air Force (USAF)

Program Status:

In Development. Initial delivery in 2017.

Prime Contractor:

The Boeing Company

The Boeing KC-46A Tanker

About the KC-46 Tanker:

The Boeing KC-46 is a wide-body, multi-mission tanker aircraft (currently in development phase) designed to replace the aging U.S. Air Force fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which has been the primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. With more refueling capacity and enhanced capabilities, improved efficiency and increased capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation, the KC-46A will provide aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and allied aircraft. The initial flight of the KC-46A is scheduled for late 2014.

The aircraft is based on Boeing's 767-200ER commercial platform and is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW4062 high-bypass turbofan engines, each providing 62,000 pounds of thrust. The KC-46A has a maximum takeoff gross weight (MTOW) of 415,000 pounds. The KC-46 has a maximum fuel capacity of 212,000 pounds. The aircraft has a crew of 15, including the pilot, co-pilot, refueling operator, boom operator, aerial refueling instructor, and aeromedical evacuation aircrew. The KC-46 is capable of transporting up to 114 passengers or 58 patients.

The KC-46 has a cargo deck above the refueling system, which can accommodate a mixed load of passengers, patients and cargo. The KC-46A can carry up to 18 463L standard cargo pallets. Seat tracks and the onboard cargo handling system make it possible to simultaneously carry palletized cargo, passengers, and patient support pallets in a variety of different combinations. Compared to the KC-135 Stratotanker, the KC-46 offers significantly increased cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities.

The KC-46 is equipped with the latest and most advanced technology, including a digital flight deck with the same large 15-inch electronic displays as on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The KC-46A will be able to refuel any fixed-wing receiver-capable aircraft. This aircraft is equipped with a modernized KC-10 refueling boom integrated with a fly-by-wire control system. The hose and drogue system adds additional capabilities that are independently operable from the refueling boom system. Almost all internal fuel can be pumped through the boom, drogue and wing aerial refueling pods. The centerline drogue and wing aerial refueling pods are used to refuel aircraft fitted with probes. All aircraft will be configured for the installation of a multipoint refueling system (MPRS). MPRS configured aircraft will be capable of refueling two receiver aircraft simultaneously from special pods mounted under the wing. The boom operator controls the boom, centerline drogue, and wing refueling pods during refueling operations. The KC-46, with its advanced and proven boom (used on the KC-10), center mounted drogue, and wing aerial refueling pods, is able to refuel multiple types of aircraft.

The KC-X Program, the first phase of KC-135 recapitalization, will purchase 179 aircraft to replace roughly one third of the current KC-135 tanker fleet. The Air Force will purchase 7 production aircraft in FY 2015. Delivery of the first 179 aircraft is expected to be complete by 2027. On February 24, 2011, Boeing was awarded a contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of the KC-X program. The contract calls for Boeing to design, develop, manufacture and deliver 18 initial combat-ready aircraft by 2017. The initial flight of the KC-46A is scheduled for late 2014. Boeing will build and assemble the KC-46 at facilities in Everett, Washington and Wichita, Kansas. On June 26, 2013, production of the first KC-46A commenced in Everett, Washington.

Bidding Process:

On February 29, 2008, in the bid for the next generation aerial refueling tanker, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) selected the Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-30 over Boeing's KC-767. The KC-30 was later designated KC-45A by the Air Force. Boeing protested the award and filed a complaint with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in March 2008 and waged a PR campaign against the award. In June 2008, after the Air Force had admitted to several flaws in the bidding process, the GAO recommended the contract be reopened for bidding. The following month, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that the Air Force would reopen the bidding process on the tanker contract. Gates put the contract into an expedited recompetition with Defense Undersecretary in charge of the selection process. However, in September 2008, the DoD canceled the KC-X solicitation. In September 2009, the Air Force began preparing for a new round of bids and presented a much clearer set of criteria. The number of requirements was significantly decreased from 800 to 373 to simplify the process, and allow for a more objective decision to be made. In March 2010, Boeing announced its KC-767 bid for the new KC-X round (bid submitted on July 9, 2010). In April 2010, EADS announced it would submit a tanker bid without Northrop Grumman The company submitted a revised bid on February 10, 2011. On 24 February 2011, the Air Force announced the selection of Boeing's KC-767, which will receive the designation KC-46A. On the same day, Boeing was awarded a development contract for the aircraft. EADS decided not to dispute the award, thus ending a chaotic bidding process.



Price/Unit Cost:

At AeroWeb, we estimate the unit cost of the KC-46A will be $193.7 million (flyaway cost) or $230.7 million incl. support costs.

Program Cost:

The total procurement cost of the KC-46 program is estimated at $40.32 billion + $7.07 billion in research and development (RDT&E) funds, which means the total estimated program cost is $47.39 billion (numbers are aggregated annual funds spent over the life of the program and no price/inflation adjustment was made). This figure excludes military construction (MILCON) costs in support of the program in the amount of $4.25 billion.


The KC-46 will meet the primary air refueling missions of global attack, air bridge, theater support, deployment, and special operations support. Air refueling forces perform these missions at the strategic, operational, and tactical level across the entire spectrum of military operations. Other missions include emergency air refueling, aero medical evacuation, and combat search and rescue.

FY 2013 DoD Program:

Continues the development of the KC-46 next generation aerial refueling tanker. RDT&E funds in the amount of $1,593.3M have been allocated for the KC-46 - net of $142.9M in sequestration cuts - Click for sequestration data for this program.

FY 2014 DoD Program:

FY 2014 provides RDT&E funds in the amount of $1.558.6M to continue development efforts including the development of a militarized variant of the Boeing 767-2C aircraft, the building of 4 development aircraft, the integration of military capabilities into the 4 prototypes, and developmental and operational testing. The program also includes the development of technical manuals, Type I training, simulator and maintenance data, and the purchase of live fire assets and Government Furnished Equipment. The KC-46 aircraft will be assembled on the existing commercial 767 production line in Everett, Washington.

For more information, click to view the FY2014 DoD KC-46 Budget.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), The Boeing Company,
and Pratt & Whitney.

Specifications Armament DoD Spending FY2014 Budget

Last Update: November 25, 2013.

By Joakim Kasper Oestergaard /// (

External Resources:

Boeing: KC-46A Tanker
Pratt & Whitney: PW4062 High-Bypass Turbofan Engine

YouTube: KC-46 Tanker | YouTube Videos

Fact Sheet: Boeing KC-46A Tanker

Total KC-46 Program Cost:

 $47.39 billion  ($40.32B procurement + $7.07B RDT&E)

KC-46 Procurement Objective:

  179 aircraft  (175 production + 4 development)

KC-46A U.S. Defense Budget Charts:

DoD Spending on the KC-46 Tanker in FY2011, FY2012, FY2013 and FY2014
DoD Purchases of KC-46 Tanker Aircraft in FY2011, FY2012, FY2013 and FY2014
Defense Budget Data

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DoD Spending, Procurement and RDT&E: FY 2011/12 + Budget for FYs 2013 and 2014

DoD Defense Spending, Procurement, Modifications, Spares, and RDT&E for the KC-46 Tanker Program

Download Official U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Budget Data:

KC-46A RDT&E (USAF) Sequestration FY2013

Aircraft Specifications: KC-46A Tanker

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Primary Function: Aerial refueling and airlift
Prime Contractor: The Boeing Co.
Power Plant: 2x Pratt & Whitney PW4062 high-bypass turbofan engines
Thrust: 62,000 pounds (each engine)
Wingspan: 157 ft 8 in (48.1 m)
Length: 165 ft 6 in (50.4 m)
Height: 52 ft 10 in (16.1 m)
Weight (Empty): 181,600 lbs (82,375 kg)
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW): 415,000 lbs (188,250 kg)
Payload: Up to 212,300 lbs of fuel (96,300 kg)
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load: 207,672 lbs (94,200 kg)
Maximum Cargo Capacity: 65,000 lbs (29,485 kg)
Pallet Positions: 18x 463L standard pallets
Passengers: 58 total (normal operations); up to 114 total (contingency operations)
Aeromedical Evacuation: 58 patients (24 litters/34 ambulatory) with the AE Patient Support Pallet configuration;
6 integral litters carried as part of normal aircraft configuration equipment
Speed: Cruise: Mach 0.80/461 kts/530 mph (853 km/h)
Rate of Climb: Unknown
Service Ceiling: 40,000 ft (12,192 m)
Range: 6,385 nm/7,350 miles (11,825 km)
Armament/Weapons: None
Crew: 15
Price/Unit Cost: $193.7 million (AeroWeb estimate based on DoD budget data)
Deployed: First flight scheduled for 2014
Inventory: 0 (179 aircraft on order)

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