MELBOURNE, Australia — Boeing has delivered the first of four KC-46A tankers to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, marking the program’s first delivery to a customer outside the United States.
The aircraft, carrying the serial number 14-3611 and using the callsign REACH 46, made the trans-Pacific flight after departing Boeing’s facilities in Seattle, Washington, on Thursday afternoon local time, arriving at Miho Air Base in Japan on Friday morning local time, according to data from flight-tracking website ADS-B Exchange.
“Japan’s acquisition of KC-46A tankers marks a significant milestone for both the program and U.S.-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.
Shaffer added that the KC-46 will also be able to support Japan’s humanitarian and disaster relief efforts due to its ability to carry cargo and passengers.
Japan received the U.S. State Department’s approval to acquire four KC-46s in September 2016. The U.S. Air Force and the JASDF awarded Boeing a Foreign Military Sale contract for this first tanker in December 2017, and exercised an option for a second in December 2018.
The options for the third and fourth JASDF KC-46As were exercised in October 2020 under a $342 million contract.
Japan will form a new squadron for its KC-46As at Miho Air Base to operate alongside its existing tanker fleet comprised of four KC-767 and two KC-130H tankers that are assigned to 404 Hikotai at Komaki. The new tankers will help refuel the JASDF’s fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A and F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, Mitsubishi F-15 and F-2 fighters, and Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt rotors.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.