A response to a Freedom of Information request has 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.

However, to date, we understand that no compensation has been paid by the MoD. 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.


  1. So isn’t this story kind of good news in that a contract seems to have worked and the MOD have controls in place to have day to day coverage and I assume the A400’s could be used during a conflict if required.

    Think this shows good management – or am I missing something??

    • No. MoD receiving from “other parties” I read as other NATO or USAF tankers as standard on allied operations.

      Atlas cannot be used fro AAR.

      Another problem is the extra 5 aircraft used for “surge” They can be rented out to various other cargo operators which means the airframe hours used up. They should be used only by MoD in my opinion.

      This was a typical example of PFI where Gordon Brown got the capability for MoD without having to pay up front as we do not actually own the aircraft but lease their use, at of course a hefty profit for the contractor, rather than buying outright in the first place.

      This lack of AAR from this or Hercules Aircraft directly effects UKSF and the capability to refuel Chinook, which the UK lacks.

  2. Who ever signed that contract wants shooting! No refuelling from anyone but AirTanker, they must be laughing all the way to the bank. One way out how about nationalising AirTanker ?

  3. PFI procured for the military is a joke but it has one redeeming feature. The MOD cannot get rid of this capability until 2035. Perhaps the Navy should procure a Fleet this way. It would certainly defend the Navy from its worst enemy. HMG!

  4. A question that I’ve not seen an answer to concerns the five A330’s that are not configured as tankers. Should the UK require the use of them at short notice are they already configured with the plumbing or will they have to go back to be fitted with the necessary pipes and drums? How long will it take to modify the aircraft bearing in mind that a conflict like the Falklands was over in a few months. Is there any agreement to be able to get the modifications done very quickly.

  5. As Harry and Martin above have noted this contract agreement is astonishing. I cannot imagine any country with access to a lawyer allowing this type of agreement to be executed without considerable objections.

    Under certain sole source civilian contracts these types arrangements are acceptable, for example all of Next’s mens ties for Christmas 2017 being sourced from one tie maker.

    But for a critical military capability to enter into an agreement that if enforced threatens or even limits the armed forces ability to carry out their duties is grounds to have this document voided.

    Who agreed to this? Who can answer Williams critical question?

    Is any one in the RAF concerned about this? Or just Harry Martin and I?

    • Yes, that’s my understanding. I’ve seen this contract raised as a big issue on other forums when the possibility of using Osprey for AAR on the carriers has been discussed. Apparently a price per litre would need to be paid to AirTanker for any fuel delivered to F-35Bs via an Osprey AAR rig.

  6. My understanding was that the air tanker contract provides more than enough capacity for fixed wing but surely we need a400m/c130 to extend helicopter range? The merlins were supposed to have aar as were the special farces chinooks. If the contract states fixed wing why are we not pursuing helo refuelling useful for special ops and interventions such as Sierra Leone

  7. I find it un-believable the RAF has replaced its C-130 with ARR with the A400M which has not beed equipped with ARR.
    Marshall Aerospace saved our bacon way back in 1982 why have we not learned anything from that deficiancy??

  8. UK MoD – where the vested interests of commercial companies out weigh the need for capability.
    I don’t know why people don’t get this.
    We pay billions for platforms that we can neither fully arm or fully man.
    We buy equipment we don’t need and pay over the odds for them.
    The only thing that gets cut in the MoD is resource (people).
    The sooner we all accept that MoD is there to support the UK manufacturing base, with a side line in sending troops overseas to fight unwinable fights with sub standard equipment the better.
    Example – we now have the 2nd largest chinook force in the world (60 helicopters), yet we can not afford the training to make all the aircrews combat ready to fly them.
    We have the most advanced anti air warfare destroyer in the world yet we lack the manpower to put them all to sea so we use one as a £1 billion along side training platform.
    The Clyde now have an order book that will sustain them until 2030 – best hope we have the people to man the ships when they are built…..but does it matter? Doesn’t seem to concern the MoD today so why should it tomorrow?

    • Bingo. “The sooner we all accept that MoD is there to support the UK manufacturing base”

      Been saying that for years.

      I don’t agree with all of your post especially concerning sub standard equipment and and the Chinooks but well said with HMG’s attitude.

      • Evening
        I would suggest a 60 Fleet chinook force in today’s climate is extremely difficult to sustain, especially now that training in year has been cut to the minimum. I can see the older airframes being removed from service whilst sustaining crew numbers and increasing frame usage. The fact that we can only send chinooks out in small packets (1 to 2 a/c) suggests that we are not fully utilising the whole force anyway.
        The majority of equipment purchased for operations were done via UOR and then subsumed into the ORBAT. Equipment purchased through normal procurement processes never fully meet the requirements of the user or, in the case of aircraft like Tornado, have to be upgraded to “Diamond standard” to make them “fit to fight”.
        Therefore the standard at which they are maintained and then provisioned to the user is normally below the standard of what is required to be of full use in combat. If the kit used by the line is so good why do SF units procure there own equipment through their own SP teams? If it’s good enough for the line it’s good enough for SF.
        For example – Why do the Army have Bowman yet SF use Harris?
        If Bowman was procured properly, against the requirements you wouldn’t need to procure separate radio systems to satisfy interoperability requirements that have always been there. Sub standard not by choice but by poor acceptance criteria and commercial pressure from suppliers.

  9. A while ago there was a report that even the mimimum 9 Voyagers were unnecessary for peacetime RAF needs. Of all the problems in our armed forces a shortage of tankers isn’t one of them.

  10. Also bear in mind our new boeing maritime patrol aircraft cannot be refuelled by our own airbus tanker aircraft because they require the flying boom type prodder to get the fuel into the boeing receptacle.the mod thing our new belated supply of longe range maritime patrol aircraft will not need refuelling by our own tanker capability.In short.’you could not make this stuff up’!

  11. The voyager contract was +£7 billion for 9 aircraft? Is that true? if so utter rip off we could have got a cheaper solution surely?
    also the MOD are Muppets.
    imagine meeting a contract say we will have complete monopoly over air to air refuelling until 2035 and no other aircraft like the A400M is allowed to undertake any air to air refuelling.
    sheez they are laughing all the way to the bank.

    • Yes, but I believe those billions pay for operating costs and the rest over the full course of the contract as well as use of the aircraft?

  12. Think I read that the RAF buy of A400M was reduced from 25 Aircraft to 22 as the perceived need for spare AAR capability was prohibited due to this contract.


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