by Senior Airman Charles Rivezzo
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
5/15/2015 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The
9th Air Refueling Squadron successfully certified Travis' first aircrew
on the KC-10 Extender's first major avionics and air traffic management
upgrade May 7.
Having been in operation with the U.S. Air Force since 1981 without
significant modernization, the upgrade of the airframe's communication,
navigation and surveillance capabilities, aka CNS/ATM, marks a
significant step toward ensuring the KC-10's role in future global
According to Maj. Justin Esquivel, the CNS/ATM project officer at
Travis, the modernization is the most cost-effective method for the
KC-10 fleet to comply with increasingly stringent communication,
navigation and surveillance requirements imposed air traffic
"The CNS/ATM upgrade allows for unrestricted access to airspace that
otherwise would have not been available to unmodified KC-10s," Esquivel
The long overdue upgrade is addressed by a study published by the RAND
Corp., which provides objective insight into the cost-effectiveness of
modernizing the KC-10.
The study found that the CNS/ATM upgrade featured a positive net present
value, meaning that the overall benefit was greater than the cost to
procure these upgrades.
The result is a multi-pronged program that addresses looming
obsolescence issues, meets global and civil airspace requirements as
well as Federal Aviation Administration certification.
"Traditionally, communication between aircraft and ground-based air
traffic controllers has been accomplished through line-of-sight
communication primarily consisting of voice communication via VHF and
UHF radios," Esquivel said. "However, air traffic facilities are
increasingly relying on data links and beyond-line-of-sight
communication which significantly improves effectiveness of
communications between pilots and controllers.
"In busy airspace, communication limitations have restricted the number
of aircraft that can access the airspace and increased the time it takes
to send and receive air traffic clearances. As a result, new
communication capabilities have been mandated to increase communication
Simply stated, as currently configured, the KC-10 will have reduced
access to airspace which includes some of the most fuel-efficient
routings and altitudes.
Additionally, as part of the software upgrade, the aircraft's navigation
and surveillance systems will provide the aircrew with greater
situational awareness with regard to formation flying, thereby
increasing the margin of safety.
Esquivel explained that this increased capability will be translated to
non-formation flying and operations where air traffic control requires
reduced separation of aircraft. This closer spacing is designed to
increase fuel efficiency and reduce delays.
"Without CNS/ATM the KC-10 would quickly become obsolete," the project
officer said. "The aircraft has yet to have a major avionics or
communications upgrade and this is a significant step toward ensuring
the future viability of the KC-10."
Currently, Travis has two modified KC-10s on loan from Joint Base
McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in order for aircrew to familiarize
themselves with the new systems.
"All KC-10 crews will be scheduled for a differences course which, right
now, consists of computer based training, classroom training and a
certification sortie," Esquivel said. "The process takes about four
The installation is scheduled to receive its first modified aircraft
later this year. In total, the fleet of 27 KC-10s assigned to Travis is
projected to be fully upgraded by October 2016.
(Editor's Note: Maj. Justin Esquivel, Maj. Chuck Erickson and Tech.
Sgt. Brad Kretschmer are the first to be certified on the CNS/ATM
upgrade at Travis.)