Employing the Pegasus: From Concept to Capable

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nathan Eckert
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MORÓN AIR BASE, Spain -- Approximately 220 Active, Guard and Reserve Airmen have operated four KC-46A Pegasus out of Spain from mid-March through most of April 2022. The Total Force team make up the first KC-46 Employment Concept Exercise (ECE), evaluating how they and the aircraft will provide rapid global mobility to future Joint Force operations.

"The exercise was the first of a series of efforts designed to enhance operational fielding and sustainment of the KC-46," said Lt. Col. Joshua Moores, 344th Air Refueling Squadron commander and ECE detachment commander. "Throughout the ECE, aircraft and personnel remain under Air Mobility Command (AMC) authorities as we validate desired learning objectives and demonstrate readiness to support theater operational missions."

AMC devised the exercise to gauge how the aircraft can be implemented in different situations and from contingency or austere environments worldwide. As with any new aircraft, putting the KC-46A in remote environments allows leaders and those working with the airframe to refine the tactics, techniques, and procedures used across the Pegasus enterprise in coming endeavors.

"Future ECEs will present employment of the KC-46 in various scenarios, such as overseas operations, and exercises," Moores said. "With the goal of further operational test and evaluation, increasing proficiency of aircrews and support personnel, and to strengthen sustainment requirement processes."

The Air Force's newest tanker has been approved to conduct the majority of its' primary mission sets of airlift, air refueling and aeromedical evacuation since March of 2021. It can now execute limited versions of these missions and refuel 85 percent of all Joint Force aircraft.

During the ECE, KC-46As refueled Spanish Air force fighters using its Centerline Drogue System, marking the first time the Pegasus had fueled any European aircraft. In total, 22nd, 931st, 157th and 916th Air Refueling Wing Airmen flew more than 500 hours and offloaded more than 2 million pounds of fuel to U.S. and allied receivers.

The ECE was supported by AMC’s 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing. Utilizing their Airmen assigned at Moron AB, Spain, with extra aerial port muscle provided by Airmen out of the 728th Air Mobility Squadron from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. All units involved were key to the success of the first KC-46 ECE.

"This is a real-world test of the KC-46's capabilities and integration with combat air forces and our DOD [and] Euro-NATO partners," said Lt. Col. Jason Helmick, 931st Operational Support Squadron commander. "The ECE supports AMC through global reach and extending the capability of air missions across EUCOM."

The ECE is part of AMC's Interim Capabilities Release, a conditional plan allowing the Pegasus to conduct real-world missions despite not yet being named to fully operational status. Despite this and remaining deficiencies, successfully fielding the new platform is essential in bringing the Force's aging tanker fleet into the modern era and the future.

As it becomes fully operational, the Air Force expects the KC-46A to provide not just fuel but increased survivability, enhanced communications, self-protection and situational awareness necessary for Joint and Allied forces to compete, deter and win.

"The KC-46A is the premier air refueling platform for the Air Force and our DOD partners." Helmick said. "The aircraft continues to prove itself mission capable and demonstrates flexibility whether it be in-air refueling, aeromedical evacuation, cargo lift or ground forward refueling operations."

Through the exercise, the crews that operate the KC-46A and the Airmen that support and maintain it through varying missions provide valuable data on what's needed for continuous operations no matter where the mission takes it. This information will allow Air Force and Joint leaders to confidently employ the Pegasus to provide refueling anytime, anywhere.