US Air Force stops at Cape Town on Southern Hemisphere tour

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Under the title of “Delivering Hope, Projecting Lethality,” two United States Air Force (USAF) air-air refuelling tankers made a brief stop in Cape Town on Wednesday 25 January as part of an endurance mission.

The two Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft, one from the 6th Air Refueling Wing (6th ARW) at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, are on a 32 200 km endurance mission across the Southern Hemisphere.

This, according to the 6th ARW Public Affairs Office, is to demonstrate the global reach capability of the USAF while also enhancing partnerships with numerous countries in the Southern Hemisphere over a seven-day trip around the world.

The trip will take the two tankers to South America (Brazil was visited on 23 January), Africa (Cape Town), Australia (Perth) and the Indo-Pacific before returning to their respective stations.

Whilst KC-135R crews routinely circumnavigate the world, it is usually in the Northern Hemisphere. However, this operation is more than circumnavigating the Southern Hemisphere.

Both tankers are more than 60 years old and are from two different bases separated by the entire continental United States, adding an additional layer of complexity that future high-end fights will present.

“We are in the business of delivering hope and projecting lethality around the world, anytime, anywhere,” said Colonel Adam Bingham, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander. “We’re ensuring we have the right operational capabilities to bolster deterrence and maintain competitive advantage for the US and our allies and partners across the globe.”

The KC-135R Stratotanker provides the core aerial refuelling capability for the United States Air Force, with the newer Boeing KC-46 Pegasus in the process of delivery to initially replace older KC-135 Stratotankers. The USAF intends to procure 179 Pegasus aircraft by 2027.

Concurrently, a USAF Boeing C-40 Clipper (a military version of the civilian Boeing 737 passenger aircraft) is at Lanseria Airport (Johannesburg), transporting US Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, on her visit to South Africa.