The KC-46A, a next-generation aerial refueling aircraft, is designed to boost the air power and mobility operations of the Air Force. The high-capacity aircraft, which displaces the KC-10 Extender and replaces the KC-135 Stratotanker, will aid global missions and improve the ability to respond rapidly to crisis and contingency operations around the globe.
AFCEC, responsible for providing full-spectrum installation engineering services across the enterprise, plays a key role in the beddown of missions and airframes.
“The Air Force relies on AFCEC to design and deliver resilient facilities, which will accommodate the needs of the KC-46A fleet,” said Col. David Norton, director of AFCEC’s Facility Engineering Directorate.
Jointly, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Naval Facilities Engineering Command, AFCEC’s Facility Engineering Directorate is managing construction efforts Air Force-wide to deliver infrastructure for the new tanker.
“Infrastructure is critical to air power. We work closely with the bases to improve their facilities and ensure they are mission ready,” Norton said.
AFCEC completed McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas beddown in 2017 with 16 projects at $230 million and is nearing completion of the Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma beddown with eight projects at $66 million. Construction is ongoing at several other locations, to include Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Travis Air Force Base, California.
At Tinker AFB, a designated maintenance hub for the new refueling platform, the massive $500 million effort began in 2016.
“The groundbreaking for the new facilities was in July 2016, with the first project completed in October 2019. The work included expansion of the taxiway, ramps and other infrastructure on the campus,” said Rafael Gonzalez, AFCEC project manager.
AFCEC also finished a depot maintenance dock and system integration laboratory designed for equipment calibration in 2019.
“These developments were the first portion of a large construction effort expected to run through 2029,” Gonzalez said.
AFCEC is managing the design and construction of a 14-dock maintenance campus, with the primary function to provide depot maintenance work in support of the KC-46.
Nearing completion is a $110 million two-bay maintenance hangar – a first of its kind – combining different types of maintenance capabilities. It’s expected to be ready in October in time for the arrival of the KC-46A.
“With additional infrastructure being built, the 156-acre maintenance campus will improve the operations and assure continuity of Tinker (AFB)’s mission in support of the KC-46 air refueling operations worldwide,” Gonzalez said.
On the east coast, at JB-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, AFCEC is engaged in projects totaling $105 million. The base is an existing tanker base but needed upgrades to enable the full operations of the new air frame when it arrives in August 2022.
“Our delivery plan includes construction of 10 projects to support this extremely capable aircraft,” said Mai Stevens, AFCEC project manager.
“Since the groundbreaking in December 2018, the base received a new maintenance hangar and servicing facility, along with ground equipment storage and a training facility,” Stevens added. “We also completed alterations to the parking apron and fuel system.”
Stevens said activities for other facilities are ongoing with an expected completion by the end of 2021. They include a two-bay hangar, a new fuselage trainer and a boom-operator trainer.
Travis AFB is a west-coast site to beddown the KC-46A. “The base was selected for several reasons: geographic location, existing tanker programs and better infrastructure capacity,” said Gary Thresher, AFCEC contract support, managing Travis AFB’s projects.
“There are 22 projects to renovate existing facility space or construct new facilities for mission functions that lacked sufficient resources or did not exist previously at all,” said 1st Lt. Alexander Bellows, KC-46 Program Integration Office beddown project manager.
Work began in May 2019 with the construction of a $7.7 million corrosion control facility that is expected to be complete by mid-October.
In December 2019, AFCEC awarded a contract for a three-bay maintenance hangar. The $137 million development is the biggest item in an estimated $188 million list of construction, repair and modernization projects designed to get Travis AFB ready for the new tanker.
Bellows said that Travis AFB’s hangar space was undersized and the three-bay hangar project will alleviate this deficit.
“It is the largest construction effort in Travis AFB’s history, started in May 2020 with the demolition of three facilities to make way for the new hangar,” Thresher said.
Work for one more project – renovation of three buildings for the total force integration of squadron operations and the aircraft maintenance unit – is set to begin this month. To meet mission requirements, the floor plan will be reconfigured and the walls rebuilt.
“Other initiatives located around the flightline will range from a new hydrant system and taxi apron repairs, to expanding the existing fuel cell hangar,” said Gonzalez, who is also managing some projects at Travis AFB.
The first aircraft is scheduled to arrive at Travis AFB in August 2023 with the base receiving 24 KC-46As by the first quarter of 2025.
Four other bases have already received the KC-46A: McConnell AFB, Kansas, followed by Altus AFB, Oklahoma, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, and Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina.