Air Force can retire KC-135, TRANSCOM commander says

U.S. Transportation Command is responsible for moving people and materiel around the globe in support of the nation’s defense needs. It relies, in part, on the use of the Air Force’s aircraft to do that.

When the Air Force hoped to retire some aircraft within the KC-135 Stratotanker fleet in order to make way for the new refueling aircraft, the KC-46 Pegasus — which was delayed — Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander of TRANSCOM, thought it inadvisable. But that is no longer the case.

“At that time, the … implications for day-to-day operations were significant,” Lyons told lawmakers May 18 before a hearing at the House Armed Services Committee. “Since that time, the United States Air Force has done some incredible work, first to make sure that Boeing is signed up to complete the work that they’re under contract to complete. Second, to work through some interim capability releases to allow us to use the KC-46 in operations.”

A KC-10 Extender assigned to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., parks on the flight line after a mission across the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 16, 2017. (Air Force photograph by Yasuo Osakabe)

Lyons said that while the KC-46 refueling aircraft is not compatible now with every aircraft that might need to be refueled, it’s compatible “across a large portion” of them.

The Air Force has also delayed retirement of some KC-10 Extender aircraft, Lyons said. And this puts TRANSCOM in a good position, Lyons added.

“I really appreciate the support of the Air Force,” Lyons said. “I’ve talked to the chief about this, I think we’re in a very good place. I do think it’s the right decision to allow the Air Force to retire the KC-135s that they requested to retire.”

A C-17 Globemaster III is piloted close to a KC-46 Pegasus during a refueling training flight over central Washington State, Jan. 30, 2019. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Sara Hoerichs)

TRANSCOM is also responsible for the movement of household goods when service members make a permanent change of station. To better serve customers there, Lyons told lawmakers, improvements are underway to better assess how customers rate their experiences with the contract movers TRANSCOM uses to move service members. Right now, less than a third of customers respond to post-move surveys.

“When we look at the survey information that comes in, our estimate is about 30% of the customers … respond on surveys,” Lyons said. “My guess is we get both extremes. But we could do better in that population. We have taken initiative and have put a company under contract to improve our survey process, and that’s underway at the moment … to make sure it’s more accurate, more thorough, easy, and the analytics on the backend are more meaningful to drive better business decisions. That’s one of many initiatives in the area of defense personal property reform.”

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