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Commercial aerial refueler completes first B-52, MC-130J refueling over Pacific Ocean

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

As Pacific Air Forces made history last November by using an Omega KDC-10 to refuel fighter aircraft in the Pacific for the first time, the command has now taken this milestone to new heights, reoptimizing to meet the strategic challenges in a time of great power competition.

Within the PACAF area of responsibility, an Omega KDC-10 refueled a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and an MC-130J assigned to the 1st Special Operations Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan over the Pacific Ocean, making it the first commercial aircraft to refuel both aircraft, March 10.

“These types of missions significantly advance Total Force power projection capabilities and exponentially increase readiness,” said Col. Jon Baize, Chief of Contingency Operations at Headquarters PACAF. “With commercial air refueling in theater, wings and warfighters saw immediate return on investment, getting training and unique opportunities they otherwise couldn't get in this AOR due to demand signal for tankers outpacing supply. By having an on-demand, flexible, highly mission-capable tanker available, PACAF is able to open the aperture for global mobility.”

Baize and Lt. Col. Shannon Vinson, Chief of Mobility Operations worked with Air Combat Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Force Global Strike Command, Air Force Materiel Command, and the U.S. Navy Program Management Activity (PMA) 226 in support of this historic milestone.  They championed the project as an opportunity to pursue innovative ways to accelerate change and support warfighters.

“To compete and win, the joint force needs resilient and diverse ability to get the warfighters where they need to be when they need to be there,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Spinelli, 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. “Having an additional means and capacity depth in our air refueling and logistical movements is critical to success. Long range bombers now have additional means to get into and out of theater rapidly and ultimately offers the joint force more presence, firepower, and mass of force a higher consistency.  Commercial Air is a must for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command operations given the nature of the theater.”

Working in concert with U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, PACAF warfighters engaged with the Air Refueling Certification Agency at Wright-Patterson AFB to get Technical Compatibility Assessments expeditiously approved for the A-10, B-52, C-17, and MC-130J to interfly with Omega KDC-10. 

“Air refueling mission success enhances our warfighting advantage by breaking down service barriers, working seamlessly across domains with stakeholders around the world including joint, interagency, special operations, and Allies and partners,” Vinson said. “There’s no limit to what we can do as a unified fighting force aligned with our leadership’s vision of accelerating change.”

This event solidifies how the U.S. Air Force continually evolves and sharpens capabilities through innovation. It also exemplifies how bomber missions contribute to joint force lethality and deter aggression in the Indo-Pacific by demonstrating the U.S. Air Force’s ability to operate anywhere in the world at any time in support of the National Defense Strategy.

“To achieve U.S. national security objectives, the Total Force needs the capability to use all tools in the tool kit,” said Vinson. “By PACAF leadership pioneering a path for efficiently and effectively utilizing commercial air refueling, it's clear the sky is no longer the limit.”

The KDC-10 transited from Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea to Andersen AFB, Guam completing four successful, safe contacts with the B-52 and MC-130J. Leveraging the capability of commercial air-to-air refueling allows the U.S. Air Force to increase warfighter readiness in the priority theater and around the globe.

“Depth and resiliency of capability is how we enable and continue the fight to meet our objectives,” Spinelli said. “In the theater known for its ‘tyranny of distance’ the needed sustainment of airborne assets is critical in lens of competition as much as it is in conflict.”

Moreover, the ability to utilize commercial tankers is just one of many examples of how U.S. forces can challenge the status quo to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of their choosing. Similar to the U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-46 Pegasus, the KDC-10 utilizes a boom operating system and can carry 29,000 gallons of fuel, and 41,000 gallons of fuel with an additional fuselage tank.

“Aerial refueling is the lifeline of military operations in the Pacific due to the tyranny of distance between suitable airfields,” said Lt. Col. Reagan Mullin, 1st Special Operations Squadron director of operations, Kadena Air Base, Japan. “The Omega commercial refueling platform offers military aircrew operating in the Pacific with another option to train and obtain mission support when tanker demand exceeds existing military capacity. We can’t wait to work with Omega again!”

With the capability of delivering 400-900 gallons a minute, the KDC-10s flexibility enables B-52s to continue to actively train during operations and exercises while integrating alongside Allies and partners throughout the region. Bomber Task Force missions actively enable strategic bombers to operate with greater operational resilience from various overseas and continental U.S. locations, .

“PACAF leadership saw a challenge, put trust in us as Airmen to research and find solutions, then empowered us by providing innovative tools to successfully execute,” Vinson said. “Working on this project, I was truly inspired encountering the can-do attitudes, bravery, and perpetual optimism present in so many of our Total Force warfighters. I would fight alongside any of the teammates involved with commercial aerial refueling in future.”