One thing I noticed when reading through the KC-10 flight manual (see page 184 for the specific reference) is that the KC-10 lacks support for Category III operations, unlike its civil DC-10 brethren. What was the purpose behind the USAF asking MDC to remove capability from a military airplane?

Furthermore, military ILS systems in the US are qualified to CAT II at best, even in areas where air carrier airports are well-qualified for CAT IIIb minima. For instance, Joint Base Lewis-McChord only has a CAT II approach to RWY 34 whereas nearby Seattle-Tacoma Int'l has CAT IIIb approaches to 300' RVR on all three of its primary instrument runways. Considering that I seriously doubt the USAF would somehow be buying ILS equipment inferior to what's available in the civil market -- is there some other reason they don't provide any low-visibility capability better than the CAT II minima of 100' DH and 1/4 mile visibility, as the published PAR minima in the A/FD are no better, either?

Update: KADW RWY 19R has a CAT IIIa approach, good to 700' RVR. This seems to be the only military CAT III procedure published, though. Perhaps the VIP airlift aircraft (E4, etal) have autoland support, even though the normal military heavies don't?

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    $\begingroup$ Well, where's the fun in letting the plane do all the interesting bits of flying? :) real Air Force jocks spend 80% of their flight hours inverted, including short final. $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Feb 13 '15 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ @JonStory Hopefully they're not flying inverted short finals in the KC-10s, though. - haha $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 13 '15 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ Only empty ones $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Feb 13 '15 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab I bet any aircraft could do it once $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Feb 14 '15 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ @KorvinStarmast -- then why are the published PAR minima in the A/FD no better than CAT II? Not enough practice? Or is PAR below those minima basically a military-specific (i.e. unpublished/not for civil use) procedure? (As far as budget goes, I'm not sure if the DC-10s autoland was an airline-option (i.e. extra cost to add) thing, or something that was part of the base DC-10, and if the latter, how much removing it cost vs. having it available for use on the KC-10) $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Oct 12 '16 at 23:13

The Super Hornet can't even shoot a VOR approach, much less an ILS. We are TACAN/ PAR only. That's fine at the boat, because that's how we operate, but apparently the Navy still hasn't figured out that there are stationary airfields that don't float. Maybe someday we'll upgrade and get the finest in 1980's technology.

In all seriousness I'm assuming it has to do with operational requirements and money. The less the Navy spends on stuff like ILS equipment, the more they can spend on stuff that goes boom. Also, if the weather is questionable at home we probably can't safely do our training mission anyway, and out at sea, we have some other systems that help us land on the boat in bad weather. It would be really nice though to be able to use civilian fields as legal weather alternates. It gets a little tricky sometimes when planning cross countries.

  • $\begingroup$ The KC-10 is Air Force not Navy, though. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Feb 14 '15 at 3:50
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    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97, sure, but costs and operational requirements are factors that all branches of service must take into consideration. Some branches just have more money to 'pump' into stuff like pools, but I'm not bitter. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Feb 14 '15 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ I'm assuming they're going to have a bingo weather divert before launch that should satisfy those requirements, and in a real intercept, FAA takeoff minimums no longer apply. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Feb 14 '15 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ That raises a question -- how would you recover fighters if CAT III conditions are present over a wide area and you had to scramble into such conditions? $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Feb 14 '15 at 5:04
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    $\begingroup$ Closest alligator to the boat man, you're gonna kill bodies first and then deal with that later. If people punch and we lose assets then some instruction will probably be written to prevent it from happening again, but the likelyhood of that happening is pretty slim $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Feb 14 '15 at 5:33

FWIW, I do not fly the KC-10, but I do have friends that do...

Anyway, you're looking at a T.O. that is 7 years old since the last change (not sure when the most recent write-in is)... Military pubs are always changing, avionics upgrades are always happening, and what you're looking at may be severely outdated.

Having said that, I don't believe in this instance that it is. However, I don't see the need to be able to shoot CAT IIIc approaches. What does the Air Force gain? Once deployed you aren't going to have that technology, and CONUS you just divert. So why spend the money for it?

I may not know the full politics behind it, but I do not see the operational need for it.

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    $\begingroup$ plus the KC-10 has enough fuel to land where its VFR! $\endgroup$ – rbp Aug 17 '15 at 1:24

NB: speculation, IANAP

Note the assault strip in the approach diagram for McChord Field. This is a very short strip of moderately improved runway for simulating a combat landing on a short airfield. Most (if not all) USAF pilots need to qualify regularly with such landings.

Unlike commercial aircraft, which take off and land almost exclusively at improved facilities, military aircraft should not expect ILS landings in their travels. We've seen recently how over-reliance on automated technologies can have disastrous results, in most cases fatal. Thus the military places the emphasis on training the pilot, and not in relying on their equipment not to fail.

So why put ILS systems at military airfields at all? For one, many military airfields also serve as regional airports. They might also give pilots proficiency in landing at commercial airfields. It is also likely that they exist as a minimum for commercial pilots to use in the event of an emergency landing (for military-only runways).

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    $\begingroup$ Military aircraft (especially tanker-sized ones!) often use commercial airfields as intermediate waypoints, for one; for two -- close-to-manual landing technology for CAT III approaches has only come of age recently with the advent of commercial HUD systems. It makes no sense that the Air Force would have to completely shut down operations while the air carrier airport next door is in (mostly) full swing still... $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Feb 13 '15 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ KC-10 aircraft are tankers, and do not require assault landings (those are primarily done by the workhorses of the AF, the C-17 and C-130) $\endgroup$ – SSumner Feb 13 '15 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ @SSumner My understanding is that KC-10 aircraft are multi-role. While assault landing may be over stating it, the RAF (I know little about USAF) use(d) these kind of aircraft for troop deployments to Afghanistan and similar - requiring operationally specific procedures. $\endgroup$ – Dan Feb 13 '15 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Dan - they are "multi-role", but they have much more limited capabilities, especially in the term of short-field landings. $\endgroup$ – SSumner Feb 13 '15 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ Haha, well we certainly don't exclusively rely on our equipment to work, its constantly breaking. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Feb 14 '15 at 2:59

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