Japan Will Be First International Customer for Boeing KC-46A

 - October 26, 2015, 9:15 PM
The first configured KC-46A tanker is shown at Boeing Field in Seattle after its maiden flight on September 25. (Photo: Boeing)

Japan plans to acquire three Boeing KC-46A aerial refueling tankers for its Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF), becoming the first international customer of the new aircraft. Japan’s defense ministry announced the decision on October 23.

Boeing was the lone bidder for the ASDF requirement, submitting a proposal by the ministry’s September 8 deadline. Japan is funding the acquisition in its Fiscal Year 2016 defense budget, and plans to deploy the Boeing 767-based tanker by 2020.

The ASDF currently operates four Boeing KC-767 air tankers. The service chose the new Pegasus tanker “because it can refuel U.S. fighter planes heading to combat zones in the event of a Japan-U.S. joint military operation, which could be made possible by the new security legislation under deliberation in the Diet,” said The Asahi Shimbun, which reported the ministry’s selection of the KC-46A in September. “The highly contentious bills would remove Japan’s long-held ban on the exercise of the right to collective self-defense and greatly expand the overseas role of the ASDF,” the newspaper added. The Diet later enacted the security legislation.

In June, South Korea’s air force selected the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport as its future aerial refueling tanker over the KC-46A and a Boeing 767 tanker conversion that Israel Aerospace Industries proposed. South Korea will buy four MRTT tankers.

Boeing and the U.S. Air Force completed the first flight of a full KC-46A tanker from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., to Boeing Field in Seattle on September 25. The manufacturer is building and flying four prototypes under an engineering and manufacturing development contract with the U.S. service, which plans to acquire the first 18 of 179 planned tankers by August 2017.

“We look forward to working alongside the U.S. government to help Japan expand its aerial refueling capabilities with Boeing’s next-generation KC-46 tanker,” the manufacturer said following the announcement in Japan. “We appreciate the confidence the Japan Ministry of Defense has shown in Boeing as we honor our commitments in country and continue our enduring partnership with Japan, which has been going strong for more than 60 years. Japanese industry plays a vital role in Boeing’s commercial and military programs and we hope to increase our presence in Japan.”