Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Boeing has started assembling the first of four KC-46A tankers the U.S. State Department approved for Japan under a $1.9 billion deal nearly three years ago.
The company announced Tuesday that it started assembly of the aircraft on Friday, loading an 82.4-foot-long wing spar into the company's 767 production facility.
"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," said Jamie Burgess, Boeing vice president and KC-45 program manager. "From the enhanced flight deck to the modernized boom, this tanker will provide unmatched capabilities for Japan."
Japan is the KC-46A program's first international customer.
Boeing was awarded a Foreign Military Sale contract for one KC-46A aircraft and logistics services in December 2017. The second one was contracted in December.
The KC-46A is a derivative of the commercial 767-C, which is already in service as an airliner and freighter in multiple nations worldwide.
Deliveries to the JASDF will begin in 2021.
The Chicago-based company began developing the KC-46A for the U.S. Air Force in 2011 and delivered its first KC-46A tanker aircraft to the U.S. Air Force in January.
Though the U.S. Air Force accepted the aircraft in January, it identified deficiencies during development.
The Air Mobility Command identified the most recent problem with cargo locks last week, prompting the U.S. Air Force to bar its KC-46 tanker planes from carrying cargo or passengers until its resolved.