Italy to be a new Boeing KC-46A operator. The new Pegasus tankers will be designated KC-767B.
The DPPD (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale della Difesa) for 2022-2024, the document released by the Italian Government this summer to illustrate the funding needed by the Italian military to sustain and modernize its forces, had already confirmed the intention of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to acquire two new KC-46 tankers and upgrade the current four KC-767A tankers to the same standard in order to boost the so-called heavy multi-role transport capabilities of the Italian Air Force.
However, as explained back then, the DPPD did not provide additional details about the procurement. But on Nov. 2, 2022, the Directorate of Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness (ARMAEREO) of the General Secretariat of Defense and National Directorate of Armaments (SEGREDIFESA) released a preliminary report concerning the “Renewal, strengthening and Integrated Logistic Support of the Italian Air Force Heavy Multirole Tanker fleet”.
According to the report, the original plan to procure two new KC-767A airframes and upgrade both these and the existing four ones to the latest configuration standard (KC-46A) was found not feasible by a special commission whose role was to evaluate the project: the only viable solution to meet the goals is to buy six new aircraft already at the standard currently in service with the U.S. Air Force (that the document calls KC-767B – suggesting this will be the designation of the new tankers in the Italian Air Force).
Actually, the upgrade to the Pegasus standard of the existing KC-767A appeared to be a quite difficult operation since the beginning. The KC-767A is based on the commercial B-767-200ER (Extended Range), and is equipped with both the sixth generation flying boom (similar to the one of the American KC-10), and three hose and drogue stations (WARPs – Wing Air Refueling Pods).While a Boeing 767 derivative too, the KC-46A Pegasus features a stretched fuselage, different engines, cockpit, wings and boom: in other words, despite some clear commonalities, it’s almost a completely different tanker. Anyway, both feature a dual capability that provides a significant flexibility: during the same mission the tanker can refuel both aircraft equipped with onboard receptacle and those with an IFR (In-Flight Refueling) probe. The tanker is itself equipped with a receptacle, meaning that it can be refueled by another tanker extending its range (or on-station time).
Dealing with the existing fleet of KC-767As, ordered in 2002 and delivered between 2011 and 2012, the four airframes, assigned to the 14° Stormo (Wing) based at Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, and flown by the 8° Gruppo (Squadron), will be traded-in and returned to Boeing.
The new tanker program, worth 1.12 Billion Euro (including integrated logistic support for five years and the acquisition, through FMS, of various critical equipment, including the self-protection and communication systems, the tactical datalink, and the mission planning platform) is going to begin in April 2023 and will end in 2035.
With the acquisition of the KC-767B/KC-46A, Italy follows the same approach chosen by Japan that was another KC-767 operator and opted for the KC-46 Pegasus.