Though only one year into work on its KC-46A contract, Boeing could accommodate early international orders for the aerial refueler possibly as early as 2018, says Dennis Muilenburg, president of the company’s military sector.

Boeing is operating under a contract with the U.S. Air Force to develop the KC-135 replacement and deliver the first 18 aircraft in 2017. The Air Force conducted a preliminary design review this spring, and Boeing is now working on detailed designs. The aircraft will be based on the 767-2C platform, which includes structurally enhanced cargo floors, cargo doors and wiring and plumbing to prepare for the refueling systems.

Many nations awaited the protracted decision by the Air Force to select the Boeing option over the A330-based tanker proposed by EADS. Now that development is under way, some are beginning to inquire about when they may purchase, Muilenburg says, though he adds that the near-term focus is to deliver on the Air Force contract.

The likely countries to buy would be in the Middle East and Asia, and there are opportunities with some NATO allies, he says. The Air Force plans to buy 15 tankers per year once the program reaches full-rate production; the total buy will be 179 tankers.

Muilenburg also says the company intends to finish development within the target cost of $4.4 billion, though government auditors have suggested the company will require up to $400 million of its own funds to successfully complete the project on time. “Execution right now is very strong,” he told reporters at a July 8 press roundtable in advance of the Farnborough air show. “We plan to deliver on the contractual cost.”

Meanwhile, the company is planning to continue aggressive sales campaigns for other hardware, such as the C-17 airlifter, Chinook and Apache helicopters and — if the first international customer finally steps up soon — the V-22 tiltrotor.

The company’s long-term target is to achieve 25-30% of its sales internationally. Five years ago, that was at about 7%; in 2011, it rose to 24%. Muilenburg says he expects to surpass 25% this year, a year earlier than originally anticipated.