Air Force says budget cuts won’t hit Boeing tanker

U.S. Air Force officials call the Boeing Co.’s aerial-refueling tanker, to be built in Everett, their top acquisition priority, even as the agency faces $10 billion in budget cuts this fiscal year.

“The KC-46A program will ensure that our nation retains a tanker fleet able to provide crucial air refueling capacity worldwide for decades to come,” Air Force officials wrote in a report, explaining their commitment to the program.

The report, an overview of the branch’s budget prepared by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III, was presented Friday to the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services.

Over the past several months, funding for the tanker program has been in question as the federal government works through the effects of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. But the Air Force has included $1.6 billion for the tanker in the 2014 budget.

The Air Force in 2011 named Boeing the winner of a $35 billion contract to replace 179 of the agency’s KC-135 tankers, which Boeing supplied to the agency 50 years ago. Boeing’s KC-46A tanker is based on the Everett-built 767 commercial jet.

Chicago-based Boeing is obligated to deliver 18 tankers by the end of 2017. All 179 tankers are expected to be delivered by the end of 2028. On Friday, the Air Force said Boeing remains on track for the first tanker to fly by the end of 2014.

“The program is currently executing as planned,” wrote Donley and Welsch.

The Air Force and Boeing agreed to a fixed-price contract for the initial development stage, during which Boeing will build the first four 767-based tankers. The aerospace giant largely bears the burden of cost overruns for those initial tankers.

Had the Air Force been unable to fund the program, the contract would have had to be re-bid.

That wouldn’t be a good for either the Air Force or the country, Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva told the American Forces Press Services on Thursday.

A re-bid process would mean paying “more for the airplane than we know we have to based on the existing contract,” said Selva, a commander with the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.

The fixed-price contract, the aging KC-135 fleet and the lengthy bidding process are all motivators for making sure the KC-46A tanker program is funded and on time. The contract took 10 years to award.

Rep. Rick Larsen, the 2nd District Democrat who sits on the House acquisitions committee, said he’ll make sure the Air Force follows through on the commitment to fund the tanker program.

“Not only is the new tanker a key national strategic asset, it will provide thousands of good-paying jobs in Snohomish County,” Larsen said.

Herald reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or

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