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Japan takes delivery of first KC-46A tanker from Boeing

JASDF KC-46 Pegasus
Japan's first KC-46 during trials with a US counterpart. Photo: Boeing

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has taken delivery of its first KC-46A tanker from Boeing.

The delivery on October 29 marked the program’s first delivery to a customer outside the United States. Boeing is also delivering the same tanker to the US Air Force.

The Japan KC-46A is capable of refueling JASDF, US Air Force, US Navy, and US Marine Corps aircraft.

“This is an exciting and historic moment for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Boeing as Japan joins the United States with the world’s most advanced, proven and safe multi-mission combat aerial refueling capability,” said James Burgess, Boeing vice president and program manager, KC-46 Program.

“Japan’s acquisition of KC-46A tankers marks a significant milestone for both the program and US-Japan cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and plays a critical role in the security alliance between both countries,” said Will Shaffer, president of Boeing Japan. “With its ability to carry cargo and passengers, the KC-46A tanker can also support Japan’s humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.”

The US Air Force and JASDF awarded Boeing a foreign military sale contract for this first JASDF KC-46A in December 2017, and exercised an option for a second in December 2018. Options for the third and fourth JASDF KC-46As were exercised in October 2020.

While the KC-46A has already completed more than 5,000 sorties and transferred more than 50 million pounds of fuel to other aircraft through its boom and drogue systems, the US Air Force and Boeing continue work on several issues on the aircraft.

Category-I deficiencies such as the the upgraded remote vision system 2.0 and a redesign of the boom telescope actuator are preventing the tanker from achieving full operational capability, which could be reached in 2023, when Boeing delivers the first tankers equipped with the reworked remote vision system.

Boeing builds KC-46A aircraft for the US Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force on its 767 production line in Everett, Washington. In addition, Boeing’s Japanese partners produce 16 percent of the KC-46A airframe structure.

Boeing is currently assembling the second KC-46A for Japan and has delivered 48 KC-46As to the US Air Force, beginning with the first delivery in January 2019.