Today's news that an Airbus Military A330-tanker in development for the Royal Australian Air Force suffered damage during a refueling exercise has raised a number of questions about what the effects may be on the RAAF's KC-30A program and the company's tanker effort more broadly.
The KC-30A was refueling a Portuguese F-16 when the refueling boom detached. The incident is now under investigation.
One of the biggest immediate concerns is that the boom, once it separate from the A330, feel into the Atlantic Ocean. That will complicate efforts to determine what exactly prompted the unusual incident. In particular, the critical question of whether there was some sort of unusual material failure at fault, or whether there is a design problem.
The boom, early on, was considered a weakness of the EADS effort on the U.S. Air Force KC-X tanker program, but since then the company has spent considerable time and resources to develop and test the system (including in the rig shown above). In fact, company officials started to believe the boom had become an asset, not a handicap.
Now some of that data may need to be reviewed more closely.
So far, there's no clear indication what the impact might be on the first tanker delivery to the RAAF. The program is already about two years late. The latest delay, missing the end-of-2010 handover target, is being attributed to the pace of completing paperwork between the customer and supplier; Airbus Military officials have said the technical work is done. What is more, Airbus CEO Tom Enders said this week the first delivery was imminent.
Still, it is hard to believe the RAAF will accept delivery of the aircraft until there is greater certainty over what transpired. It is easy to imagine that means another delay.
Perhaps the biggest question is, what will it mean for KC-X...