The first KC-46A constructed for Japan recently refueled another KC-46A

The first KC-46A constructed for Japan recently refueled another KC-46A -- it's first time both giving and receiving fuel during flight -- its manufacturer, Boeing, announced on Monday. Photo by Kevin Flynn/Boeing

Japan’s first Boeing KC-46A recently refueled another KC-46A in mid-air over Washington State and successfully received fuel in return, the company announced on Monday.

“Refueling with the first Japan KC-46A is an important milestone for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force,” Jamie Burgess, KC-46 program manager, said in statement from Boeing.

Japan is the first non-U.S. KC-46A, and is scheduled to receive its first of the tankers later this year. Japan’s KC-46A tanker can refuel U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and JASDF aircraft.

“The ability to carry cargo and passengers while maintaining tactical situational awareness makes the aircraft a critical tool in the security alliance between the U.S. and Japan,” Will Shaffer, president of Boeing Japan, said in the statement.

The KC-46A is a derivative of the commercial 767-C, which is already in service as an airliner and freighter in multiple nations worldwide.

Boeing is assembling the KC-46A aircraft for the United States and Japan on its 767 production line in Everett, Wash. Boeing’s Japanese partners produce 16% of the airframe structure.

The U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a Foreign Military Sale contract for the JASDF’s first KC-46A in December 2017. A second Japan tanker was contracted the next year and is in production.

In October, Boeing won a $342 million contract modification to build the JASDF’s third and fourth KC-46A tanker planes, which are slated to be completed by June 30, 2023.

Boeing began developing the KC-46A for the U.S. Air Force in 2011 and delivered its first KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft to the U.S. Air Force in January 2019.

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Recently, the U.S. Air Force Air began using the KC-46A aircraft’s refueling boom for operational missions, which reduces pressure on KC-135 and KC-10 tankers for refueling, after Air Mobility Command Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost approved the mission set.

The U.S. Air Force cleared the KC-36A aircraft earlier in the year for limited, non-combat flights, but it is not expected to be combat-ready until 2023. The tanker has faced delays in development due to quality control issues, including malfunctioning cargo locks and its boom telescope actuator.

Three U.S. senators called for investigation into the problems last year. At the time, longstanding problems included the refueling boom and its rearward-facing remote vision system.

Earlier this year, a report the Pentagon’s inspector general released found the Air Force could have avoided spending $100 million for redesign of the fueling boom with more careful oversight.

Despite restrictions and deficiencies, the KC-46 has safely conducted over 4,700 refueling contacts with C-17, B-52 and KC-46 receivers since October 2020 on various training and exercise missions, according to the U.S. Air Force.

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