Boeing KC-46 tanker (finally) gets a foreign order

EVERETT — After several tries, the Boeing Co. has won its first foreign order for its new military aerial refueling tanker, the KC-46A Pegasus.

Japan plans to buy three of the tankers, which are assembled in Everett, the country’s Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said Friday.

The tankers are expected to go into service in 2020. Japan’s 2016 budget will have money for the first one, which will cost $173 million, according to Kyodo News.

“Adding the number of tankers will strengthen our defense capability,” Nakatani said, according to Kyodo News.

The KC-46 tanker is currently undergoing test flights out of Boeing Field in Seattle and is in low-rate production in Everett. The Chicago-based company developed the tanker for the U.S. Air Force, and plans to deliver the first 18 by August 2017.

The tanker will give U.S. military forces greater flexibility and range, especially in operations around the Pacific Ocean and East Asia.

Similarly, it will help the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Nakatani said, according to news reports. “By adding more tankers, our troops can sustainably operate respective air and maritime operations.”

The KC-46 will augment four KC-767 tankers already flying for Japan. The smaller tanker is also based on the 767.

The win is the first foreign order for Boeing’s KC-46. So far, the plane has struck out when pitted against Airbus’ competing A330 Multi-Role Transport Tanker (MRTT).

When Japan requested bids in September, Airbus declined to submit its A330 MRTT. The European airplane maker said Japan’s requirements were weighted in favor of the KC-46.

In June, South Korea chose Airbus over Boeing for a $1.3 billion tanker order.

Despite losing several international bid contest, Boeing won the order that really mattered. The U.S. Air Force plans to buy 179 tankers, far more than the roughly 50 orders from seven countries for the A330 MRTT.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454;; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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