Will Roper Eyes Autonomous Capabilities for Air Force’s Future Tankers

Will Roper Eyes Autonomous Capabilities for Air Force’s Future Tankers
Will Roper US Air Force

Will Roper, assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics at the U.S. Air Force and a 2020 Wash100 Award winner, said a redesign of the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft’s remote vision system is driving the service to plan for the possible integration of autonomous or semi-autonomous capabilities into its next tanker, the Military website reported Thursday.

"The KC-46 is going to take us all the way up to the doorstep of semi-autonomous and autonomous tanking," Roper told reporters Wednesday during a phone call. "And the Air Force has committed to put in those algorithms because, when you build a properly designed RVS, you've done everything needed to do autonomous tanking. The only thing you're missing are the algorithms to actually do it."

Boeing and the Air Force signed a memorandum of agreement in April to implement for KC-46A a final RVS design, RVS 2.0, which will feature a laser ranger for refueling aircraft distance measurement and boom assistance augmented reality, among others. Roper said the service considers survivability as a priority for its future tanker fleet.

"We're definitely going to be thinking about autonomy as a way to change the risk calculus so looking at something that is stealthy and more survivable is a different way we could go, [or] looking at something that's defendable,” he noted.

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