Two KC-46A Pegasus air refueling aircraft took off on a long endurance flight as part of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 17-18, 2022, in the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility in support of long-range precision strike training.
Aircrews from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, flew a total of 42 hours across the Pacific Ocean, over Hawaii and Guam, conducting operations within the Indo-Pacific region, then flew back to Guam and circled back home to Kansas. This endurance flight was the first time the KC-46 has directly supported a Bomber Task Force mission.
In September, Gen. Mike Minihan, Air Mobility Command commander, approved the KC-46A Pegasus for worldwide deployment in support of combatant command taskings. The KC-46A Pegasus enhances lethality and additional options to the joint force with its ability to extend reach and increase battlespace awareness, among other additional capabilities.
“Flexibility is key and the KC-46s were able to provide tanker flexibility in the event the bombers needed more fuel in anticipation of a longer than expected mission, or in the event scheduled tankers didn’t show,” said Capt. Steven Strickland, 22nd Operations Support Squadron chief of wing tactics.
“We also provided a reach-back capability through various beyond the line-of-sight secure data tactical systems,” he said. “It allowed us to communicate with a host of organizations and personnel from around the globe, while being more efficient than standard communication relays.”
The crews executed Agile Combat Employment concepts throughout the flight. The aircrews flew with the Bomber Task Force to ensure tanker flexibility for world-wide employment and support long-range strike capabilities in the Indo-Pacific command area of responsibility. They also performed off site self-service to their aircraft ensuring minimum time on the ground in Guam before taking off again to head back to east to McConnell Air Force Base. This type of self-service is part of the Agile Combat Employment initiative of multi-capable Airmen and decreases reliance on traditional en route support thereby allowing aircrews a wider range of options in execution.
Human Performance experts from McConnell also played a role in the long endurance flight. Medical professionals worked with the aircrews to come up with sufficient crew rest schedules to lower the amount of fatigue endured during the mission. These missions aim to lower the number of crews onboard to simulate what a flight like this would look like for a standard crew and how the crews would handle situations of long endurance.
“I’ve done (a) 24-hour flight and it’s not bad as long as you take the sufficient mitigating factors such as good rest, good food and bring things to do (in order) to keep your mind occupied during the rest cycle,” said Staff Sgt. Brad MaGee, 349th Refueling Squadron boom operator.
The KC-46 is equipped with several self-protection, defensive and communication features, making it more survivable in a contested environment.
“This tanker will begin to be assigned to non-traditional roles,” said Strickland. “We are providing a lot more flexibility and capability to the war fighter by providing more options and enhancing decision making. We are helping them achieve their goals in a much more efficient and cost-effective way.”
“This mission highlighted both endurance operations and the close integration between multiple platforms and capabilities,” said Col. Nate Vogel, 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander. “Our amazing Airmen, from aircrew to support personnel, tirelessly work to provide capability to combatant commanders while continuing to be at the forefront of the operational evolution of tankers.”