An Editorial Mike Ralston, President, in support of ABI Member The Boeing Company

July 27, 2022 | Mike Ralston, ABI President

The reliability and efficiency of American supply chains has been at the center of economic conversations in Iowa and throughout the nation because of the negative impacts of COVID-19 and is now being highlighted yet again with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nowhere is the resilience and hard work of American workers more important than when it comes to ensuring that our military service members have what they need to complete their mission and get home safely. Iowans have played an outsized role in delivering that certainty on America’s refueling tanker, the KC-46 Pegasus.

What sets the KC-46 apart is a modern design that can continuously be updated with emerging technology. Several Iowa companies contribute to that technology, including Collins Aerospace in the eastern part of the state and Data Link Solutions in Cedar Rapids. This ability makes the KC-46 versatile and effective in a dynamic global environment.

It’s no accident that the KC-46 is the go-to refueling tanker of the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The most advanced aircraft of its kind in the world, the KC-46 is replacing legacy KC-135 and KC-10 tankers that date back to the Eisenhower and Carter administrations. It’s also the only modern refueler in existence to undergo the rigorous test regimes of both the USAF and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), giving the men and women of the U.S. Air Force the assurance they need that this aircraft can perform to the one-of-a-kind standards of the U.S. military. A big factor in that superior performance is the aircraft’s U.S. supply chain. 

The KC-46 is a military derivative of the successful commercial 767, which has an established American supply chain. Military retrofitting provided by proven supplier companies, such as Iowa’s Carleton Life Support Systems and Cobham Mission Systems, ensure the KC-46 is safe and ready for battle without the costly delays that would accompany new, unproven tanker designs.

The importance of an American supply chain can’t be overstated. Despite challenges of the past several years due to the pandemic, the KC-46 supply chain has remained strong. It is established, delivering parts and technologies when and where they’re needed. It also economically important. Here in Iowa, the KC-46 program creates an estimated $226 million in annual economic impact, supports local Iowa businesses, and employs approximately 4,000 Iowans. These jobs are critical to our state economy and help retain a desperately needed workforce that otherwise may seek employment in competing states. 

Since World War II, the U.S. Air Force has led the world in aerial refueling. The advantages of maintaining an all-American, streamlined tanker fleet include a secure supply of spare parts, as well as established infrastructure, training pipelines, and repair facilities tailored to the KC-46. Integrating a new foreign-engineered tanker with untested systems will create billions in added costs and years in production, test and training that service members and taxpayers cannot afford.

From an Iowa standpoint, transitioning to another tanker means offshoring hundreds of millions of dollars and losing good aerospace and manufacturing jobs. Investing in the KC-46 Pegasus is a decision that should be easy for our military and governmental leaders due to its advantages in military readiness, efficiency, cost, and economic impact. The Iowa Association of Business and Industry urges our lawmakers to fully support the KC-46 Pegasus which echoes the President’s initiative that “We will buy American to make sure everything from the deck of an aircraft carrier to the steel on highway guardrails is made in America from beginning to end. All of it. All of it.” That should include the KC-46 Pegasus.