Boeing began assembling Japan’s first KC-46 Pegasus tanker by loading a 25-meter (82.4 feet) long wing spar in the company’s 767 production facility in Everett, United States.

“This is an exciting day for the program and we look forward to building and delivering these multi-role tankers to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF),” said Jamie Burgess, Boeing vice president and KC-46 program manager in a statement, adding “from the enhanced flight deck to the modernized boom, this tanker will provide unmatched capabilities for Japan.”

Boeing was awarded a Foreign Military Sale contract for one KC-46A aircraft and logistics services in December 2017. The U.S. Air Force exercised an option for Japan’s second aircraft on December 10, 2018.

Boeing is assembling KC-46A aircraft for both the U.S. Air Force and Japan in its 767 production line in Everett. Following initial assembly, workers install the tanker’s military systems at the site’s Modification Center. The jets are then flight tested at Boeing Field prior to delivery.

Boeing began developing the KC-46A for the U.S. Air Force in 2011 and delivered the first tanker in January 2019. Japan is the first international customer for the program. Deliveries to the JASDF will begin in 2021.

The KC-46 will join the four KC-767J tankers of the JASDF 404th Tactical Airlift Tanker Squadron which operates from Komaki Air Base. It will be able to service Japan’s fleet of F-15J/DJ Eagle fighter jets as well as its newly acquired Lockheed Martin F-35A/B Lighting II fighters. Japan plans to eventually acquire a total of 105 Lockheed Martin F-35A and 42 F-35B (STVOL variant) fifth-generation stealth fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of F-4 Phantom.

Japan is increasing its defense capabilities as territorial tensions escalate in the region. This last decade has seen a surge of Chinese naval incursions in the Japanese territorial waters, especially in the Senkaku Islands, a Japanese territory claimed by both China and Taiwan. On September 6, 2018, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign affairs published a report claiming that up to five Chinese vessels enter the Japanese waters every month while sailing daily in its contiguous zone.

On May 31, 2019, the first of four Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye was delivered to the JASDF to help the Japan Air Self-Defense Force in surveilling and securing the country’s airspace and its territorial waters.