A new generation of US tanker planes are being deployed domestically by 2018, with an eye on extending their operation capabilities overseas to help Japan’s Self-defense Forces (SDF) and other allies.
The deployment of the next-generation tankers overseas is to counter China’s rapid reef reclamation and other advances in the South China Sea. The KC-46A Pegasus planes are capable of refuelling both American and allied planes of the SDF. The new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines allows for cooperation between the U.S. military and the SDF on a global scale.
Asia Nikkei reports:
Boeing plans to make 179 of the KC-46A Pegasus planes by fiscal 2027. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are among more than 10 Japanese manufacturers involved in the aircraft, apparently handling a total of around 15% of production. Each plane will cost about $200 million.
Boeing aims to deliver 18 of the planes by summer 2017. Related expenses will be included in the draft defense budget for the fiscal year ending September 2019.
The new plane is intended to supply fuel not just to U.S. military aircraft, but also those of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and other allies. In the SDF’s case, the decision is based on the new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines, revised in April for the first time in 18 years, which outline cooperation between the U.S. military and the SDF on a global scale.
America’s rush to deploy the new tanker comes amid heightened tension between China and its neighbors over disputed territories in the South China Sea. In the early 1990s, the U.S. pulled out of the Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines, among other bases. China is taking advantage of this absence with aggressive tactics such as reef reclamation. The KC-46A will play a central role in the U.S. strategy to fill the power vacuum using both the Navy and Air Force.
The refueling receptacles on Navy and Air Force aircraft are different sizes, which had required different aircraft to refuel each type. The KC-46A is compatible with both types of planes.