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The U.S. Air Force will next month introduce a new, more advanced aerial fuel tanker, the KC-46 Pegasus, that may some day be able to defend itself with a laser.

Tankers re-fuel U.S. fighters and bombers in flight, allowing them to stay aloft longer and fly much farther. That important role makes tankers a key target for adversaries.

Air Force General Carlton Everhart, who oversaw the plane’s acquisition process, says the Air Force is working to add the unconventional feature, allowing the tanker to fly closer to the fight than ever before.

תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪US; Air force mulls KC-46 self defense laser concept‬‏

Everhart told VOA in a recent interview that Air Mobility Command, in coordination with Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations, will be testing lasers on airplanes “in about two years.”

Todd Harrison, the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that because tankers are "so vulnerable," the Air Force must keep them “far outside the threat ring of an adversary."

"That means that our planes cannot go as far into enemy territory before they have to turn around to come back and hit the tanker again," Harrison said.

Everhart said the idea of defending the KC-46 tanker with lasers is possible because the plane's engines can generate a massive amount of power.

He said the extra defense would make the tanker better “able to support the fighter and bomber aircraft” during combat operations.

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