If the iconic “Star Wars” character Han Solo served in the U.S. Air Force, he’d almost assuredly be assigned to a tanker or airlift squadron.
Solo, however unconventional the methods, is foundational to mission success.
Luke Skywalker and the troops can get little done without Solo and the delivery of critical supplies and fuel. The Alliance depends on it.
Over the course of the Star Wars franchise, Hollywood gave top billing to Solo, the mobility pilot, who is also a mechanic, leader, and many other roles as needs arise.
Even in the movies, an old saying rings true: in wartime, professionals always think logistics.
Solo delivers hope, relief, and resolve, much like today’s Air Force mobility troops, who underpin the American military’s lethality and, when the need arises, are a finely tuned instrument of diplomacy delivering disaster relief and enabling humanitarian assistance around the world.
Well into the future, American military success in warfare will depend in large part on refueling tankers and cargo planes — they are arguably one of a handful of assets and capabilities that allows the United States to remain a global power.
That advantage is not guaranteed.
While the refueling tankers give the Air Force global reach, the Air Force’s capable and consistent tanker fleet, like Solo’s Millennium Falcon, is a bit long in the tooth.
The KC-135 fleet is over 55 years old. World-class teams reload, and that is exactly what the U.S. Air Force is doing.
To borrow words publicly highlighted on Boeing’s web site, the KC-46 is a multi-role aircraft capable of refueling “all U.S., allied and coalition aircraft” with the ability to “detect, avoid, defeat, and survive threats.”
That’s exciting! This is more than an airplane. It’s a weapons system!
I recently traveled to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, the first installation slated to receive the KC-46, to get a better sense of what the aircraft means to airmen and the community.
I saw airman and installation preparedness and readiness to receive the new refueling tanker and genuine pride in their role. Equally visible was the community and civic support for the mission and what it means for the nation.
Dr. Arlen Honts, a civic leader, noted that Wichita prides itself on being the Air Capital of the World — known for its rich history of making airplanes and aircraft components. He is also mindful of the base’s role on the Air Force team.
Honts pointed out with pride: “Without fuel, the rest of the Air Force cannot do its job.”
This is true. Air Force tankers have served a leading role and have been a workhorse in the current war.
Highlighting the value of tankers in ensuring joint warfighter effects, Operation Inherent Resolve, the war against ISIS, has been called a “tanker war” by those charged with executing the mission.
This moniker came about as acknowledgment to its vital role. After all, more than 40 percent of all U.S. Air Force sorties flown in the war against ISIS are flown by tankers.
Timely global reach and persistence relies on the tanker force.
Getting the KC-46 adds to America’s military might and ability to help those in need.
Assuredly, moments of discovery are part of the aircraft development and testing process. Airmen are relying on Boeing’s ingenuity to deliver a capability America and the joint force deserves.
Another Kansas civic leader, Pat Gallagher, told me, “We understand what this new plane means to the war fighter, to the Air Force, to Wichita and the world.”
As one can see, the KC-46 is a pretty big deal to the mobility community, the joint force, and the nation. The sooner a fully capable KC-46 is delivered, the more lethal America becomes and remains.
While the aging legacy fleet continues to ensure America is always there, the KC-46 represents the future.
It is critical that each mission partner — the Armed Forces, industry, and civics — continues to work together and do their part to ensure a game-changing capability is delivered.
The U.S. Air Force maintains a reputation as the world’s best for a reason. It is known for delivering the right capability at the right time to achieve desired effects. This is both a promise and responsibility.
If the past is any guide, the aircraft will appear in theaters of operation for many decades, strengthening the force, and ensuring America is always there well into the future.
Like Han Solo the first time he flew the Millennium Falcon, airmen look forward to learning what the aircraft is truly capable of achieving.
After all, the nation depends on it.