Boeing has been awarded a $2.8bn contract for the low-rate initial production of the US Air Force’s (USAF) KC-46A Pegasus multirole tanker.

The KC-46A will be used to refuel all allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refuelling procedures as well as transport passengers, cargo and patients.

The award follows a Defense Acquisition Board review and announcement that the KC-46 programme has completed Milestone C and is approved for initial production.

"The KC-46 tanker will provide the Air Force unprecedented refuelling capabilities, operational flexibility and combat readiness."

Under the award, which includes the first two production lots, Boeing will build seven and 12 takers respectively.

Upon exercising of future options by the USAF, Boeing will be required to build a total of 179 aircraft for the service.

Boeing Defense, Space & Security president and CEO Leanne Caret said: “The KC-46 tanker will provide the Air Force unprecedented refuelling capabilities, operational flexibility and combat readiness.

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“It’s an important day for the company and programme.

"We’re excited about building low-rate initial production aircraft, and it’s only possible because of the hard work of the joint Boeing-Air Force team.”

Work on assembling KC-46 aircraft will be carried out by Boeing at its Everett facility in Washington, US, with deliveries set to begin in 2017.

Designed and developed based on Boeing 767 refuelling aircraft, the KC-46A Pegasus tanker will replace the USAF’s KC-135 fleet.

Prior to receiving approval for initial production, the aircraft completed a set of required ground- and flight-test tests that included refuelling flights with F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, KC-10, C-17 and A-10 aircraft and a cargo handling demo.

In 2011, Boeing was initially contracted to design and develop the USAF’s next-generation tanker aircraft, under which the company built four test aircraft, two configured as 767-2Cs and two as KC-46A tankers.

So far, the test aircraft have completed more than 1,000 flight hours.

Image: Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker. Photo: courtesy of Paul Weatherman, Boeing photo.