Japan receives KC-46A Pegasus tanker training in the United States

The first group of Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) personnel have begun training on the Boeing KC-46A air-to-air refuelling (AAR) tanker-transport aircraft in anticipation of deliveries towards the end of 2021.

According to the US Air Force (USAF), the first cohort of 12 JASDF trainees – comprising six pilots and six boom operators – from the 405th Air Refuelling Squadron (ARS) had already commenced KC-46A instruction at Altus Air Force Base (AFB) in Oklahoma. The 405th ARS was activated in December 2020 as the Japan’s first KC-46A unit.

“In this unstable, international security environment, it is important for us to get together as allies with a strong, trustful relationship,” said Lieutenant Colonel Tetsuji Kamiguchi, 405th Air Refuelling Squadron commander.

“This training is a big step for strengthening our alliance and interoperability by utilizing the same aircraft and working together to improve our operations,” he added.

The USAF noted that the JASDF trainees were provided the same training that its own personnel go through to be fully qualified to operate the KC-46A platform, comprising classroom, simulator, culminating with eight actual flights and a check ride with the USAF’s 56th ARS instructors to finalise training.

The JASDF trainees are expected to return home to stand up local KC-46A operations following delivery of the first aircraft, which performed its maiden flight at Boeing’s Everett production facility in Seattle, Washington, on 8 February.

The aircraft is now undergoing further certification prior to delivery to the JASDF later this year. Japan ordered four KC-46A tanker-refuellers worth around US$1.9 billion) under its KC-X aerial refuelling programme in October 2015, with the aim of augmenting the JASDF’s current fleet of four Boeing KC-767J platforms.

The country is the first international customer of the type. Boeing said in a February statement that while the aircraft is built in Everett, Boeing’s Japanese partners produce 16% of the KC-46 airframe structure.

Delays to the broader KC-46A programme – largely centring on deficiencies in its remote vision system (RVS) but also including Foreign Object Debris (DOF) found inside aircraft delivered to the USAF and concerns with the aircraft’s cargo-securing mechanism – have forced Japan’s first delivery back from 2020 to later in 2021.

by Jr Ng