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

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Will Roper
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.