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Japan Air Self Defense Force Becomes First International KC-46 Customer

The Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) has become the first international customer for the U.S. Air Force KC-46 program, according to a Boeing news release.

The U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a $279 million contract for Japan’s first KC-46 tanker as well as logistics support Dec. 22, 2017, through the Foreign Military Sales process. Japan selected the KC-46 for its KC-X aerial refueling program after a competition among several competitors.

Japan currently operates a fleet of four KC-767Js, the first of which it ordered in 2003. The four tankers were delivered between 2008 and 2010. The KC-767J tankers were developed from the commercial Boeing 767-200ER, and while similar to the KC-46, have only flying boom refueling capability, among other differences. Italy also operates four KC-767s, and was the launch customer for the aircraft.


A JASDF KC-767 tanker. Japan has become the first international customer for the similar Boeing KC-46A. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“We are excited to partner with Boeing as we assist Japan in advancing its aerial refueling capabilities,” said Brig. Gen. Donna Shipton, program executive officer, U.S. Air Force Tanker Directorate. “This is an important step in strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance and will enhance our interoperability with both nations flying KC-46s.”

“This milestone order highlights a valued partnership with Japan that spans more than six decades, and we look forward to continuing that collaboration on the KC-46 program,” added Brett Gerry, president, Boeing Japan. “The skilled Japanese KC-767 tanker and E-767 Airborne Warning and Control Systems pilots and maintenance personnel are already familiar with flying and supporting our highly efficient aircraft, and we look forward to helping them expand their capabilities in the future.”

Boeing’s first production-standard KC-46A for the U.S. Air Force flew early in December 2017, and is the seventh aircraft delivered. Six earlier pre-production aircraft have been carrying out flight testing duties, amassing more than 2,200 flight hours. Boeing began developing the KC-46A for the U.S. Air Force in 2011 and is assembling the aircraft at its Everett, Washington, facility.

Sixteen percent of the Boeing 767 airplane on which the KC-46 tanker is based is made with Japan.