Airbus Defence and Space has received an order for an Airbus A330 MRTT Multi Role Tanker Transport, the same type used by the RAF, from Europe’s organisation for the management of cooperative armament programmes – OCCAR – on behalf of NATO Support & Procurement Agency.

The order follows the announcement on of Belgium’s official accession to the European/NATO Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleetprogramme, which already consists of Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway and Germany.

An amendment to the original MMF contract adds the aircraft to the seven previously ordered for the MMF programme. The contract also includes three additional options to enable other nations to join the programme and provides for two years of initial support.

Airbus Head of Sales and Marketing Bernhard Brenner said in a press release:

“The selection of the A330 MRTT for MMF, along with the earlier similar decisions by the United Kingdom and France, will ensure that Europe has the world’s most operationally capable tanker fleet for many years to come.

We encourage other European nations to contribute to MMF in order to maximise the operating and financial advantages of a large fleet based on a common type.”

The programme is funded by the five nations who will have the exclusive right to operate these NATO–owned aircraft in a pooling arrangement. The aircraft will be configured for in-flight refuelling, the transport of passengers and cargo, and medical evacuation flights.

22 COMMENTS

  1. The RAF really need to get Refuelling probes funded for our 3 non centre line hose jets.

    The benefit this would provide in range extension for our Rivet Joints, forth coming P8s, C-17s, not to mention the increased inter-operability between coalition air forces this feels like a no brainer and staggeringly short sighted exclusion of capability.

    • As I understand it, the contract to lease the aircraft has a clause that penalises the RAF whenever they take fuel from someone else’s tankers. The fitting of some aircraft with probes should therefore make economic sense, if it avoids the need to top up elsewhere.

      • The probes make operational sense, especially with P-8A coming into service, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the AirTanker contract has getout clauses for aircraft where boom refuelling is required and AirTanker can’t provide that. As I understand it there are for instance exclusions if U.K. aircraft are on joint exercises and some other nation is providing the AAR resources.

      • ‘the contract to lease the aircraft has a clause that penalises the RAF whenever they take fuel from someone else’s tankers’
        there it is. more proof of the MOD having it’s pants pulled down. they seriously need to consider hiring better people to handle negotiations.
        for a nation with such a high defence budget we sure do get the shittest deals. absolutely infuriating

        • Refuelling from a boom is explicitly excluded from the penalty clause. But I do agree that the RAF needs a few Voyagers with booms.

    • I am not sure there is a big issue here.

      Boom aircraft:
      8 x C-17 Globemaster
      6 x E-3D Sentry
      3 x RC-135W Rivet Joint

      Given a Rivet Joint will have an endurance of around 8 or more hours unless you have two crews on board you will end up with operator fatigue soon after refuelling. And I think the nature of their operations means they are not thousands of miles from ground support and crew change or indeed essential maintenance given the age of the 707 based airframes.

      We have never used boom refuellers and have very few large aircraft requiring it now. Hercs and A400Ms use Drogue & Probes. Even the old VC10s used Drogue & Probes.

      It therefore seems a very expensive solution looking for a problem. The real question for the MoD is why didn’t they order the RAF P-8s with Drogue & Probe refuelling capability to match the refuelling aircraft in service?

      • You’re forgetting that as it stands the RJ departs Waddington virtually empty on fuel and then needs to be refuelled mid air by our US cousins.

        Now this obviously a runway length issue, however we should really have the ability to refuel our own aircraft.

        • raftastic – Or again why didn’t the MoD order Rivet Joint aircraft with probes fitted? Nimrods all had probes but their replacements don’t? And given we refuel all the F-18s coming off US carriers bombing ISIS from Cyprus based Voyagers interoperability is a given these days. It may even be part of the deal that in buying these from the USA they would provide refuelling.

          Either way to fund a complete fleet refit with booms for 9 aircraft (soon to be 18) is just a waste of money. Its not too late to have our P-8s built with probes but I doubt anyone has thought of it ..

          • The RJ couldn’t be ordered with probes fitted for the same reason they had to be painted exactly the same way as the USAF version. These aircraft barely got approval to fly from the MAA as they stood, let alone retrofitting a probe on the aircraft which as I’ve said would require extensive testing and sign off.

            I’m not sure where the 18 number has come from? As for 9…..I’m only advocating that the 3 aircraft which currently have no centreline refueling drum be retrofitted with a boom.

            As I’ve said this would be far cheaper than trying to fit probes to aircraft that were never designed for them in the first place.

            Yes we do have interoperability with the USA and the other coalition forces for the F/A 18 and Rafales kicking about bombing ISIS, but I’m saying we could increase that further and benefit ourselves in the process particularly with the P8.

          • raftatstioc – the 18 is from:
            6 x E-3D Sentry
            3 x RC-135W Rivet Joint
            9 x P-8 Poseidon

            Can I go back to my original point that for basically 9 aircraft (I don’t believe a probe couldn’t be homologated for inclusion on to a P-8 airframe during build) the costs of refitting and homologating to UK certification even for just 3 aircraft would be unjustifiable. And then you get the discussion about where these 3 will be based. At the moment we have a tanker fleet that can go anywhere at anytime and refuel all bar a few UK aircraft and a host of other NATO, Australian and other aircraft as well with the possible restrictions placed on the VIP Voyager.

            And basically it is only some US built aircraft that use boom refuelling systems

  2. I agree about the probes but it is also worth remembering, as a bit of an antidote to depressing news elsewhere in defence, just how good a state we are in in a few areas relative to our European neighbours. This buy will take the joint tanker fleet up to 8 to service The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway & Germany. The U.K. has 14 of these aircraft all to itself. According to Wikipedia France is ordering 12 but so far has only placed firm orders for 9.

    The same could be said of our RFA fleet, e.g. the 4 huge Tide class tankers coming on line dwarf the capabilities of our European neighbours. It does sometimes seem a bit strange to me that we have this pretty solid backbone of infrastructure but HMG seems OK cutting away the muscle on those bones.

    • We do have 14, but only 9 of those belong to the core fleet. The others are put out to lease. So they have the capacity to be used as tankers, however they would require time for a refit with the wing mounted hoses, and military comms kit etc.

      The civilian leased versions are also a different seat fit…..which although doesn’t affect their use as a tanker, but the RAF/MOD may wish to switch the seat fit back to match the rest of our fleet.

      As for fitting probes to out aircraft that is significantly more expensive than fitting our Voyagers with booms.

      This is because the plumbing and flight data for probes on something like the P8 simply doesn’t exist so we would need to pay for that to happen and for it to be certified and signed off by the MAA. Where as the booms on an A330-200 like the Voyager is already a reality and the data exists, the only cost in cured is the acquisition of the booms themselves and the additional training of the crews to operate them…..which we could quite easily get from our allies already operating the type.

  3. Chris, sorry I thought you were saying we had 18 Voyager aircraft.

    I have to respectfully disagree though, I believe the necessary certification data for a boom exists courtesy of our friends in Australia and Europe. The biggest cost would be the purchase of the equipment.

    I firmly believe that fitting these booms will give us better value for money on the aircraft and greater flexibility. Extending the legs of aircraft like the P8 which would be particularly useful during an at sea SAR operation.

    Frankly if it’s not much more expensive we should put booms on all 9 of the core fleet, but I’ll be happy with 3.

    We should also get the AAR kits for the A400M but the insane PFI and the morons that signed it put an end to that scenario.

    • raftastic – well we can pleasantly agree to disagree on booms then ….

      But why are people so anti the Voyager funding mechanism and what does the A400M tanker option add exactly? And I am not sure there are ‘exclusion clauses’ involved if it came to war or shared tanking. The ‘PFI’ used to source our new Voyagers was a very effective answer to a big need for new tankers at a time when the country was skint. And given they were all delivered on time and to specification and have worked faultlessly since I can find no fault. All we have to do is compare the UK way with the US way. We ordered Voyagers in 2008 when the US ordered the 767 tankers (lets bypass the way Airbus were shafted here) and who has had the complete fleet in place for a couple of years? The RAF. And who is still waiting for their first tanker? The US Air Force

      The idea of leasing assets isn’t new or controversial and given a tanker isn’t a front line weapon system I see no precedent why we shouldn’t deploy private finance (and transfer the risk) where it saves huge capital requirements. The deal also keeps manning levels in place at no extra cost and is entirely based on a ‘use per hour’ basis. If you drive a company car it will be leased. Businesses deploy their assets for their core business need not cars. So why not military support assets?

      This is one PFI that works and works well.

      • My concern on all PFI contracts is that post the financial crisis interest rates were rock bottom and in theory the government could borrow very cheaply so the commercial margin in these contracts migh5 we’ll be far higher than the cost of capital would have been had HMG increased borrowing to finance a direct acquisition and running of the fleet.

        The catch here is the “in theory” the government could borrow very cheaply. At the time everyone was very concerned about deficits and overall national debt relative to GDP but the fact is that in essence PFI is hidden national debt. The payments under PFG include a cost of servicing debt on capital required to provision for the project plus returns to shareholders.

        We’ll never know for sure whether the path not taken would have been cheaper. Would the markets have punished HMG for extra borrowing and bid up rates on new gilt issues and maybe even caused quicker and/or sharper downgrades on our credit rating or would they have accepted the “PFI is hidden debt that still needs to be serviced anyway” and hence we would have had leeway to be able to take advantage of low rates? Who knows, certainly not me.

  4. Whether the Voyager was owned by the Air Force or PFI is a bit of a red herring from a boom perspective.

    I am pretty sure that the PFI behind the contract would not object, if the UKGov paid for the booms, and i can’t imagine that the upgrade cost would be excessive. Additionally it should be much cheaper getting the PFI to agree than upgrading the A400m’s.

    As such, i assume there is just no interest in it currently or at least it is not a priority considering the limited funds available.

    • We could also pay the PFI to change the contract and allow us to use the A400m, but again it is money, in a period where there isn’t enough for core tech let alone nice to have’s.

    • I think this whole Thread is going round in circles. People working out why we can / can’t use A400Ms and why we should add ‘booms’ seems to be solutions looking for a problem. And its not a case of ‘we can’t because of the PFI’ because if needs must we can.

      If we need extra tanking capacity we call in one of the Voyagers currently leased out and its all costed and funded. A tanker that is totally compatible with the rest of the fleet. Why go to the pain and cost of converting some A400Ms to tankers, adding further maintenance costs, reducing operational flexibility and what exactly would they refuel?

      And again I make the point that we basically (currently) only have some 9 aircraft needing ‘boom’ refuelling (see above) as the C-17s have huge range and hardly ever need refuelling. Now this may rise to 18 with the 9 Poseidon P-8s but as I said before surely as they aren’t built yet surely adding a ‘Probe’ to them in place of the ‘boom’ receptacle isn’t beyond the wit of Boeing?

      We have 5 more tankers than aircraft needing ‘boom’ refuelling. Someone suggested converting 3 which looks fine but they would be limited in the scope of their operations as they would be tied to wherever the 9 operate? and one tanker per 3 aircraft? That has a reducing effect on fleet efficiency

      We have without doubt the best air tanking resources outside of the USA which can and do refuel the vast majority of NATO and other aircraft and we can support all bar 9 of our own aircraft. Can someone explain the problem as I am clearly missing something here …

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