The US Air Force has integrated its KC-135 Stratotanker fleet alongside Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, French air and space forces and other allies and partners.

The allied forces aim to enhance Agile Combat Employment capabilities from dispersed locations during exercise Northern Edge 23-2, July 2-21 2023.

The KC-135, equipped with the Real-Time Information in the Cockpit system (RTIC), flew alongside numerous joint and coalition aircraft to modernise and enhance battlespace communications.

Holding the exercise at Kadena Air Base, Japan, the “Keystone of the Pacific,” afforded US forces and partner nations the opportunity to work through interoperability challenges across joint, multinational and multi-domain operations in support of the shared security objectives in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Northern Edge 23-2 also achieved the joint force air component commander’s vision by deploying more than 5,000 personnel, 90 fighters and 20 tankers to ten locations throughout the region. 

KC-135 RTIC enhances situational awareness

The RTIC programme provides real-time situational awareness to KC-135 crews by displaying enemy threats, target data and allied force locations on an avionics display located in the cockpit.

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“Prior to RTIC, we were completely relying on outside sources to tell us where threats were, [to] let us know if we were in danger and tell us where our receivers were.

“Now the KC-135 crews have a moving map screen available in the cockpit and can make their own tactical decisions on whether or not they’re at risk, which will allow them to get closer to the fight and offload fuel,” the US Air Force Major Mike Starley, Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center KC-135 test detachment director, stated.

Boeing built 732 KC-135 Stratotankers for the US Air Force between 1957 and 1965. The Air Force still has 550 KC-135s in service (active duty, 253; Air National Guard, 222; Air Force Reserve, 70) and has made substantial investment in a series of upgrade programmes, including: reskinning of the lower wing surfaces, the installation of new CFM56 engines and new avionics systems.

“We only have so many surveillance aircraft available and in a theater as large as the Indo-Pacific, there’s going to be a lot of holes with no command and control.

“But we’re always going to have a tanker there, no matter what. Now we’re able to take advantage of all that space and use the KC-135, that’s already in the fight anyway, for C2,” Starley added.