FLYING Magazine

The U.S. Air Force has conducted its first commercial air-to-air refueling of a fighter jet in a proof-of-concept demonstration of a capability the service asserts will help build and maintain operational readiness while also further projecting airpower.

On Monday, a commercial KDC-10 tanker refueled an F-16 Fighting Falcon while it was en route from Osan Air Base, South Korea, to the Commando Sling 23 exercise taking place in Paya Lebar Air Base, Singapore. The bilateral training event with Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and the Republic of Singapore Air Force is meant to bolster alliance capabilities in the region.

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The refueling demonstration was the latest in trials for the Air Force.

“Just this past summer, a commercial refueling company was able to refuel an Air Force E-3 and an RC-135 in coordination with Air Combat Command during an exercise,” said Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Holtman, PACAF air mobility operations chief. “We’re expanding that aperture in PACAF and identified a proof-of-concept employment to refuel fighter aircraft during exercise Commando Sling 23.”

While the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have leveraged commercial refueling for nearly two decades, the event marked the first time a commercial aerial refueler had been contracted to top off fuel for an Air Force fighter, the service said. 

U.S. Air Force Captain Melanie Valentin, 36th Fighter Squadron pilot, prepares to enter the seat of an F‐16 Fighting Falcon to take off from Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, on November 6. [Courtesy: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]

During the demonstration, the KDC-10 tanker—which is capable of carrying 247,000 pounds of fuel, as well as 100,000 pounds of freight or passenger payload— performed another role as well.

“The KDC-10 was also loaded with more than 40 passengers attending the exercise and four pallet positions worth of cargo to exercise the aircraft’s dual-role capability for airlift as well as refueling,” Holtman said.

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By the end of the exercise, commercial refuelers will also have provided air-to-air refueling for F-15C Eagles and F-22 Raptors, according to Holtman.

A commercial KDC‐10 tanker aircraft refuels a U.S. Air Force F‐16 Fighting Falcon from the 51st Fighter Wing, enroute to Paya Lebar Air Base, Singapore, November 6. [Courtesy: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]

“If we can use commercial air refueling to cover the point-A-to-point B movements for exercise participation across unit readiness training, then it frees up our warfighter tanker fleet to be ready to respond for emerging contingency requirements,” said Holtman. “This is another mechanism that we can leverage to increase our warfighter readiness.”

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