The US Air Force has awarded Boeing a $279 million contract to produce Japan's first KC-46 tanker aircraft.

The contract is a key step in Tokyo's development of a new tanker capability. The decision to obtain three KC-46s in the 2020 time frame was originally announced in 2015.

The type will add to Japan's existing fleet of four KC-767J tankers. The KC-46 deal is being conducted under the auspices of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

“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,” says Brett Gerry, president of 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.”