Boeing has started assembling the first next-generation KC-46 tanker for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).

The company marked the programme’s milestone by loading an 82.4ft-long wing spar at its 767 production facility in Everett, Washington, US.

The US approved a foreign military sale of four KC-46A military aerial refuelling and strategic military transport aircraft to the Government of Japan.

Commercial 767-2C derivative KC-46 is certified to refuel all aircraft operated by the USAF, US Navy and JASDF.

The widebody, multirole aircraft can be used to carry passengers, cargo and patients.

It has multiple layers of protection to allow it to detect, avoid and defeat threats.

Boeing vice-president and KC-46 programme manager Jamie Burgess said: “This is an exciting day for the program and we look forward to building and delivering these multi-role tankers to the JASDF.

“From the enhanced flight deck to the modernised boom, this tanker will provide unmatched capabilities for Japan.”

The company won a contract in December 2017 to build one KC-46A aircraft and provide logistics services.

In December last year, Boeing signed another contract to construct the second tanker for the JASDF.

Boeing 747 / 767 vice-president and general manager Bruce Dickinson said: “We’re proud to support the JASDF with a production line that emphasizes quality, efficiency and safety.”

The Everett 767 production line assembles the KC-46A for both the US Air Force (USAF) and the JASDF.

The steps before the delivery of the tanker include initial assembly, installation of military unique systems and flight testing.

Boeing delivered the first KC-46A to the USAF in January. The company expects to start deliveries to the JASDF in 2021.