WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Boeing Co (BA.N) aerial tanker built to refuel other warplanes during flight is expected to win final approval soon following an important design review conducted in early July by the U.S. Air Force, according to the company.
The KC-46 tanker, based on Boeing's commercial 767 airplane, is meant to replace the 50-year-old KC-135 platform. The latest review is one of the last steps needed in the $52 billion program to move on to production. The final report will not be finished for a few weeks, an Air Force spokesman said.
"Boeing believes the review went well and initial feedback from our customer has been positive," Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said in an email. "Final approval by the USAF is anticipated in the near future."
This review has come well ahead of Boeing's September 24 contractual deadline and the company is on track to deliver the first tanker by 2016, Drelling said.
The Air Force signed a contract in 2011 for 179 tankers, with 18 to be delivered by 2017. The rest are scheduled to be delivered by 2028.
"The efforts by the combined Boeing and Air Force team to get to this point in the program development have been tremendous," Major General John Thompson, the program's executive officer, said in a statement. "For the warfighter, completion of this milestone is a big step forward."
The tanker program is one of the Pentagon's largest weapons initiatives and has been closely scrutinized since its decade-long contest with France's Airbus EAD.PA and an ethics scandal resulted in two Boeing officials getting sentenced to prison in 2004.
Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa in Washington; editing by Matthew Lewis