An Airbus A400M has successfully refuelled six Spanish Air Force F-18 fighters in a single mission as part of an air-to-air refuelling certification flight.
The 13th of December mission featured a complex series of AAR scenarios such as changes of area, receivers with unknown priorities, and unexpected increases in numbers of receivers. Through multiple contacts the six aircraft simulated a fleet of eight.
The F-18s included the first Spanish operational fighters to be refuelled by the A400M and belonged to the Spanish Air Force Test Centre (CLAEX) and the 12th Operational Wing based at Torrejón.
A total of 11.4 tonnes of fuel was dispensed using both the underwing pods and the centre hose refuelling unit. Certification authorities on board confirmed good results and the flight validated the A400M two-crew cockpit concept for tanker missions.
The UK however is not able to replicate this with its own A400M Atlas aircraft as a response to a Freedom of Information request outlined the reasoning behind the decision not to use the A400M in the refuelling role. From May 2014, the In Service Date for Voyager, the AirTanker contract stipulates that the MoD must purchase refuelling for UK fixed wing aircraft from AirTanker or be liable to pay compensation, as outlined in the contract.
This is thought to be the primary driver behind the decision not to utilise the capabilities of the A400M Atlas in this regard. It should be noted that there are exclusions which allow the MoD flexibility to receive AAR from other parties when the aircraft are supporting operations or joint exercises.
A question posed as Freedom of Information request asked:
“Does the AirTanker contract play a role in the decision not to adopt the in-flight refuelling capability on the A400M Atlas in RAF service?”
The answer read:
“The A400M Atlas aircraft was procured to provide the RAF with a Tactical Air Transport capability as part of its fleet and the MoD is currently working with Airbus to ensure the A400M Atlas will be equipped and able to fulfil this role.
After assessing all factors, including the AirTanker Contract and the AAR capability provided by the Voyager aircraft, it was determined that there is no current RAF requirement for the A400M Atlas to be used in the AAR role.”
AirTanker is a consortium made up of leading aerospace, defence and facilities management specialists, Babcock, Cobham, Airbus Group, Rolls-Royce and Thales.
AirTanker was awarded the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) contract for RAF Voyager by the Ministry of Defence in 2008. This is for the supply of an air-to-air refuelling, air transport and aeromedical evacuation capability, plus associated service and infrastructure for the duration of the contract period up until 2035.
It includes the delivery of a core fleet of nine Voyager A330 aircraft with optional surge capability rights on a further five. The service includes operational and planning control; aircraft maintenance and dispatch; a full flight crew and training service; plus two-bay purpose built hangar, operational centre and support personnel to deliver it.
Airbus Defence & Space recently carried out two test flights at its facility in Seville, Spain, to evaluate the air-to-air refuelling capabilities of its A400M transport.
During the flights, 50 contacts between the two A400Ms were made in both level flight and during turns, using a hose-and-drum add-on kit that enables the Atlas to refuel large aircraft.
The A400M is the only aircraft in its class with a third refuelling point in addition to its standard underwing pods, Airbus Defence & Space says. The MoD have chosen not to utilise this capability.