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Wed, Jan 26, 2011

KC-10 Marks 20 Years Of Deployment, Nearly 30 Years Of Operations

Aircraft Perform Both Refueling And Airlift Missions

Jan. 17th was a special day for the KC-10 Extender community. It marked the day KC-10s, aircrews and maintainers have been on continuous deployment for 20 years -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year -- to Southwest Asia in support of combat operations.

Photo Courtesy USAF

Facts show the KC-10 will pass a second milestone in March: 30 years of operational service. The KC-10 first entered the Air Force inventory in 1981 and was assigned to Strategic Air Command, or SAC. It remained a SAC asset until 1992 when it was reassigned to the then newly created Air Mobility Command. Today, KC-10s are based solely at Travis AFB and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

Despite its small numbers -- there are only 59 in the inventory -- and now lengthy time in service, Air Force warfighters routinely rely on this tanker for both air refueling and airlift, operating them at a steady pace all around the world supporting U.S. operations. One such location is with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing's 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at an air base in Southwest Asia. KC-10s have been deployed to this specific location for nearly all of the 20 years of continuous deployment.

"We've multiplied our KC-10 presence there several-fold since the time I first deployed in 1996 and we're now staying three times as long," said Lt. Col. Johnny Barnes, 9th Air Refueling Squadron commander at Travis AFB. "We have numerous crewmembers with more than 10 deployments under their belts and more than 300 combat sorties."

Following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in August 1990, U.S. military forces and their allies initiated Operation Desert Shield, history shows. This marked the beginning of the KC-10's unbroken deployment string. SAC planners deployed seven KC-10s to assist in the massive buildup of U.S. troops and equipment in the Persian Gulf region and the air refueler has been there ever since.

Photo Courtesy USAF

SAC officials later increased the number of tankers along the route that included New England, the Azores, Egypt and Guam. And although the KC-10 was constantly hauling cargo and troops, statistics also show it consistently achieved the highest mission-capable rates -- above 95 percent -- of any coalition aircraft.

"Without the phenomenal tanker support we had for the war, we could not have accomplished what we did," said retired Lt. Gen. Pat Caruana during an August 2009 Tanker Living Legends Speaker Series at Scott AFB, Ill. The general served as a U.S. Central Air Forces' air campaign planner and commander directing strategic forces in Saudi Arabia for both Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

The aircraft did more than provide just air refueling, General Caruana said.

"The KC-10s were providing a majority of the airlift, especially early on," he said.

Photo Courtesy USAF

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm resulted in the largest air refueling operation ever conducted. The KC-10s and KC-135 Stratotankers were credited with a total of 51,700 refueling operations, delivering more than 125 million gallons of fuel. When the actual fighting began Jan. 17, 1991, tankers were flying missions not previously seen. "I can remember we had tankers refueling F-15 (Eagles) at 3,000 feet right before the operation began," General Caruana said. "They were flying low to avoid radar.

When Operation Southern Watch was launched in 1991 to enforce the Iraqi no-fly zone, KC-10s also were flying combat support sorties. Since then, they have participated in operations Restore Hope (Somalia), Deny Flight (Bosnia), Desert Fox (Iraq), Allied Force (Kosovo), and tens of thousands of individual airlift and air refueling missions.

When terrorists attacked the United States on its own soil on Sept. 11, 2001, almost immediately KC-10s from JB McGuire were airborne supporting the combat air patrols protecting U.S. skies as part of Operation Noble Eagle. Tankers flew more than 350 sorties in that operation with nearly one-third of those flights occurring within the first three months after the attacks.

Now, nearly 10 years after the first of the Twin Towers fell in New York City, KC-10s continue to play a vital role in protecting the United States against attack. KC-10s have logged more than 106,000 flying hours. In 2009 alone, the tankers flew more than 4,700 sorties, offloading more than 422 million gallons of fuel and supporting nearly 3,000 troops in contact events.

Photo Courtesy USAF

KC-10s also have been instrumental in operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. "We couldn't do what we do without the KC-10," said Lt Col LeRoy, 9th ARS director of operations. "The KC-10's ability to offload the amount of fuel that it does is one of the key reasons the Navy is able to fly from an aircraft carrier to Afghanistan."

The KC-10 is projected to have a structural service life beyond 2043.  With no immediate plans to replace the KC-10, Air Force officials may be relying on the tanker through its golden anniversary in 20 years.

FMI: www.af.mil


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