The first Boeing KC-46 tanker destined for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) took to the skies on its maiden flight yesterday. This successful flight highlights an important milestone as the aircraft now transitions into the certification phase of development. Japan is the KC-46 program’s first international customer and is scheduled to receive its first jet this year. The U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a $279 million contract for the JASDF’s first KC-46A tanker in December 2017. The agreement was completed through the Foreign Military Sale process between the U.S. government and Japan. Japan is now on contract for a total of four KC-46 tankers.
“This is an exciting milestone for the JASDF and Boeing,” said Jamie Burgess, KC-46 program manager. “Japan is getting closer to receiving the most advanced air refueling tanker in the world.”
“Boeing’s KC-46 and its robust defensive systems will play an invaluable role in the security alliance between our two countries,” said Will Shaffer, president of Boeing Japan. “This tanker’s ability to carry cargo and passengers also makes it a critical tool to support humanitarian relief efforts across the Pacific region and beyond.”
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) operates four of the earlier Boeing KC-767 tankers that were delivered from 2008 to 2010. On 23 October 2015, Japan selected the KC-46 as its new tanker, with a contract for three tankers expected in 2016. The decision allows for common operations and training with the USAF, and Japan was reportedly attracted to its capability to refuel MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors the JASDF is to receive. The three tankers are to be fielded around 2020 at a cost of more than ¥20.8 billion, about US$173 million per aircraft. As of September 2019, the JASDF is reportedly looking to acquire a total of six KC-46 aircraft.
The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is an American military aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft developed by Boeing from its 767 jet airliner. In February 2011, the tanker was selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) as the winner in the KC-X tanker competition to replace older Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers. The first aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in January 2019. The Air Force intends to procure 179 Pegasus aircraft by 2027. Boeing is assembling KC-46A aircraft for both the U.S. Air Force and Japan on its 767 production line in Everett, Washington. Boeing’s Japanese partners produce 16% of the KC-46 airframe structure.