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 the Voyager tanker aircraft provided by AirTanker, 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.

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Does this contract rule out any (however unlikely) future UK purchases of V-22 for AAR on R08/9?


Stop privatising our military!!!! I recently saw that the MoD plans to outsource fire and rescue to Capita which can only go one way (the way recruitment went).


They changed their mind about that.


I don’t see what the issue is. We signed a contract with the private sector to provide air to air refueling capability. The RAF have stated they do not have any additional requirements therefore fitting it to Atlas would increase flexibility it would also be a waste of money.


The contract has an exclusivity clause, saying the UK will only buy tanking from AirTanker domestically. It has some get-out clauses for tanking from allies/war, but other than that the contract would have to be re-negotiated.


Presumably there is a clause allowing refuelling use in war? Or are our Defences to be determined by draconian contract clauses set by contractors vested interests?


yes it does – been covered on here before.

William Franklin

Question, if a surge in AAR was required how long would it take to generate the five Voyagers that are held in reserve?
Do they have the necessary plumbing already fitted and just need the refueling hoses fitted or would they need to have work done in the hanger to bring them up to the required standard.


All 5 voyagers would need to return to Seville to have AAR equipment retro-fitted. They are effectively civvy airliners currently, which is how they are delivered from the Airbus factory. MRTT aircraft then go to Seville to have the equipment fitted.

In the know

Not true, Airtanker Services based at Brize has the ability to restore the capability themselves, within 1 month of the requirement being triggered. The aircraft do not need to go back to Spain for this task.

Chris mastin

That is wrong these were fitted with refueling
Kit and airtanker removed it. So can be fitted by
Airtanker again when req.

Paul T

As far as I know this was the specific reason why the RAF reduced its order for 25 A400’s to the 22 currently required,thats not to say that any more would not be bought in the future should a need arise.


(Chris H) Not sure the headline for this article reflects the facts as presented by the formal answer to the FoI request. Whew in: “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.” does it say it was the AAR Contract that was the deciding factor? Air Tanker are providing all our AAR needs with superb aircraft under flexible (and therefore lower cost) arrangements which in now way restrict combat or… Read more »

Bob P

This is a chicken and egg scenario when it comes to ‘Helicopter Air-to-Air Refuelling’. The Commando Merlin HC4 is looking to regenerate air-to-air refuelling but at present no UK aircraft can refuel it, but because no aircraft can refuel it, its harder to justify and trial the requirement and because no UK helicopter can currently air-to-air refuel, there is no formal requirement for an A400M to deliver that capability.

Bloke down the pub

The V22 has a removable system to refuel other aircraft. Does anyone know if this would fit in a Merlin HC4?

John Clark

That’s an interesting point, I think the V22 can carry roughly double the internal load ( by weight) of the HC4, so while the kit would fit, I doubt it could carry sufficient fuel to make that work.

Could it be fitted to a Chinook I wonder, or would the massive rotor wash make its use as an AAR asset impossible ?

Rob Collinson

Rather than purchases new facilities for Atlas or any other service, we need to retrofit a boom system to refuel aircraft which need that system for refuelling – i.e. the soon to be introduced P-8.

This facility is vital as we progress through the 2020s.


Agree even more so if we swap out the E3’s for something else

Having our voayager equiped with booms also makes them much more useful for the USAF, with the continuing problems of KC 46 the USAF could use all the help it can get.

Ian 2

What ever happens the MOD ie the tax payer will end up probably 2 to 3 times what it should because of pay tomorrow policies.


A400M is a real lost opportunity, if it could all have been made to work and come in on time we could have had a fleet of 50 or so covering roles of C17,C130 and voayager. We might even have gotten a solid MPA capability out of it with a bit more foresight.

Now voayager seems a bit awkward when we are retaining C130 and C17.

David Parody

Yesterday there was an RAF MRRT and Airbus version of the same conducting a2a refuelling of Airbus’s testbed A400M over the Alboran sea all operating out of Seville


There is an ongoing drive to have both Merlin and Chinook AAR capability i.e. as receivers not tankers. As alluded to before the downwash behind a Chinook makes the drogue basket weave too much, as this was once tried by the US Army to increase the range of their SF model Gs. The only aircraft that has been cleared for refueling the Chinook is the C130, but even then the Chinook is going max chat. It’s true that the USMC carried out trials to use the V22 as a tanker and the concept was successfully proven. They managed to refuel… Read more »

John Clark

The main advantage of the V22 is that it’s now matured and the US Navy are using it in the COD role. Add to this the USMC are paying for AAR trials/development and it’s a win win for the UK It doesn’t need to refuel a whole squadron, just top off a brace of F35’s ( or HC4’s) on route to a target and on the way back. Such a roll on, roll off capability alongside the COD roll would be a massive advantage to our QE class carrier’s. RVL and organic AAR would in combination close the supposed capability… Read more »


I totally agree that the V22 would be a major asset for both the Navy and Airforce. If we’re talking making it multirole than we should also include giving it an AWACS capability with perhaps Crowsnest. The beauty of the V22 is that it is designed to operate from ships, so it’s fully marinised to begin with. The folding wing and props maximise deck space. The only real issue is the cost which is triple as much as that of a Chinook.


The issue is a V22 is more than twice as expensive to operate as a Chinook and it is not in inventory, even levering off the Americans the argument for buying V22 is rather weak. We have gone without a dedicated COD since the 1970’s and even made the best of it during high intensity operations like the Falklands. A COD makes sense for the USN considering the number of Super Carriers they operate globally. That doesn’t mean we can’t make use of the V22, firstly the USMC will be regular visitors and no doubt they will bring their MV22… Read more »


AirTanker is unable to provide IFR for Rotary Winged aircraft, so why not enable the A400 to do this? The Merlins are IFR probe equipped (or can be) and I’m sure the SF CH47s would appreciate the capability.