MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian tanker has refueled a Japanese fighter jet in the air for the first time as part of interoperability trials between the two Asia-Pacific nations.

A Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A tanker aircraft was deployed to Japan April 4-27, during which it participated in a flight test engineering program with Japan Air Self-Defense Force Mitsubishi F-2 jets.

The KC-30A operated out of Komaki Air Base in Nagoya, which is home to Japan’s KC-767 tanker fleet, whose crew also took part in the program.

The F-2s that took part in the program were drawn from the Air Development and Test Wing based out of nearby Gifu and included both the single-seat F-2A and twin-seat F-2B aircraft.

The flight test program saw aircrew and engineers ensure the mechanical compatibility between the KC-30A’s and F-2′s systems during a series of flights, and that they could be flown safely in a range of configurations and lighting conditions.

The program culminated with nine flights that saw the F-2 refuel from the KC-30A, flown in a variety of lighting conditions — daylight, dusk and nighttime — and saw the Japanese fighters refuel using the tanker’s aerial refueling boom.

The F-2 also flew in a variety of configurations to ensure it could safely receive fuel. These included the F-2s in a so-called clean configuration — in which their pylons were empty — and while carrying fuel tanks and various external loads.

Photos released by the Australian and Japanese air forces from the flight tests showed F-2s carrying up to four surrogate Type 93 anti-ship missiles and AAM-3 air-to-air missiles.

Air Vice-Marshal Darren Goldie, who serves as air commander Australia, said the program would facilitate the increasing complexity and sophistication of bilateral engagement between both nations. He added that the program was the culmination of two years of close cooperation between the Royal Australian Air Force’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit and Japan’s Air Development and Test Wing.

“This is the first time that a RAAF aircraft has refueled a JASDF aircraft, and will help build the special strategic partnership between Australia and Japan,” Goldie said, adding that the program will also benefit Japan’s activities in the upcoming exercise Pitch Black 22. The multinational, large-scale air combat exercise is scheduled for August in Australia’s Northern Territory. This year will be the first time the Japan Air Self-Defence Force participates in the exercise.

Australia and Japan, which are both U.S. treaty allies, have enhanced their bilateral defense relationship in recent years. Both countries also concluded a reciprocal access agreement in January to make it easier for their respective forces to visit each other’s countries for exercises.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.

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