Boeing opens another facility for KC-46 tanker

Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

Boeing has opened a second Puget Sound area facility to support the development and production of the KC-46 tanker for the U.S. Air Force.

Boeing opened a system integration laboratory “to support testing and reduce risk” on the KC-46 tanker, the company said in statement Wednesday. The lab is located at Boeing Field in Seattle. The company plans to open three more laboratories for the tanker at Boeing Field and one in Everett by the end of 2013.

“Opening this lab says a lot about Boeing’s commitment to executing on this contract,” Maj. Gen. John Thompson, Boeing’s tanker program director, said in a statement.

Boeing opened a tanker boom assembly center at Boeing Field last month. It also hopes to open a finishing center there as well. The 767-based tankers, however, will be assembled in Everett, where the commercial 767 line is located.

The lab, dubbed “SIL 0,” opened on Sept. 12, three weeks ahead of schedule. It will be used to test commercial avionics and software for integration into the KC-46A Tanker.

“Our five System Integration Labs will help keep us on track to deliver the first 18 KC-46A Tankers by 2017,” Maureen Dougherty, KC-46 vice president and program manager, said in a statement. “Accelerating system integration will drive out issues prior to flight testing and reduce risks to our schedule.”

Boeing was awarded in 2011 the contract to replace 179 of the Air Force’s KC-135 refueling tankers. Concerns have been raised over funding for the tanker program as the deadline for a mandatory across-the-board budget cut, called sequestration, approaches.

A report released earlier this month and signed by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., suggests that the tanker program could take a hit of about $99.5 million if Congress fails to come up with a solution to sequestration. The total contract is about $35 billion.

Also on Wednesday, India’s defense officials selected Airbus’ A330-based tanker for a $1 billion contract for six tankers, reported Defense News. Boeing dropped out of that tanker competition in 2010. Airbus’ A330 was up against Boeing’s 767 tanker for the U.S. Air Force contract.