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The Future of the Tanker Fleet; Eindhoven, April 12, 2018

Frisian Flag and the EART 2018, part 4; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The lessons which are learned during the EART have made politicians in Europe decide to join forces when it comes to air to air refueling with strategic tankers. With the help of the European Defense Agency, the study was started which led to the purchase of a joint European Airbus A330MRTT tanker fleet in the near future.

Air to Air Refueling is currently one of the four most important projects which is running at the EDA. In addition to this project, the other three major projects are Cyber Defense, RPAS systems (drones) and satellite communications. Especially during the Libyan crisis of 2011, it became visible how important a solid tanker fleet is for the European Union. Polman explains that in this crisis more than 49 tankers were available which came from seven different EU member states. There are currently more than nine different types of tankers in use which all use different systems. During the operations in Libya, fifty tankers were asked, while only 49 were available. In addition, it is true that in practice there will always be less available due to maintenance and repairs to different aircraft. In practice, therefore, over 30% of tanker capacity was shortage during this conflict. Since this conflict more tankers have entered service at the different air forces. In total there are nowadays about 90 aircraft operating in Europe which are comparable to the American KC-135 standard. Polman says there is still a shortage of more than 40 aircraft with tank capacity if these figures are compared with the requirements of the European Union. The EDA has started the Air to Air Refueling project to fill this capacity shortage in the future. The company has started a study which investigates how these gaps in capacity can be filled in the future.

The EDA comes with three solutions for the capacity shortage of tankers in Europe. The first solution is to be more effectively with the tanker fleet which is already available. That means more use of each other's tanker aircraft where this is possible. This requires a piece of standardization which can be applied during the operations. The EART plays the most important role for this solution, because countries can now operate with each other's equipment. The EDA has set up the EART to train the units with each other. This means not only looking at each other, but really getting along

with each other during realistic scenarios which take place during the exercise Frisian Flag on Leeuwarden for example. After the training had taken shape and was mature enough, the entire training was transferred from the EDA to the EATC. For the second solution, Polman indicates that the large shortage of all these tankers will only become painfully visible as soon as there is a so-called peak demand, such as during crisis situations. The second solution is equipping the European Airbus A400M fleet with drogue pods under the wings to accommodate and support these peaks of capacity requests. In the year 2025, this solution must be available. The transport aircraft will normally function as transport aircraft and the drogue pods are stored at the airbase. In times of crisis, the aircraft can easily be adjusted as tanker.

The third solution is the solution that will have a major impact, according to Polman. In 2011 they started a project in the Netherlands where the idea arose to purchase a joint European tanker fleet. The two KDC-10' have to be replaced in the Netherlands and they decided to involve other countries in the purchase of aircraft. The idea of creating this joint fleet was developed by the EDA ever since. The advantage of the participating countries is that you can buy exactly the number of hours that the country needs every year in tanker capacity. This saves each participating country a huge amount of costs which would otherwise be lost in the purchase of additional tankers. The concept is therefore very cost efficient according to Polman. Countries can theoretically only buy half a plane in this project and in practice they have access to more than eight different aircraft. The availability of capacity is therefore fantastic for the partners with respect to the costs. The aircraft type which will be purchased will be of the type Airbus A330MRTT. This aircraft soon emerged as the most suitable aircraft for all parties. The advantage of this aircraft is that it has both the boom system and the drogue system on board. The aircraft is also capable of carrying more than 266 troops and the aircraft can carry a huge cargo load when the seats are removed from the passengers area. The A330MRTT can literally refuel all types of aircraft in Europe. The aircraft will be multi-usable in the tanker roll, the transport roll and also in the MEDEVAC roll. This makes the A330MRTT a versatile and cheap solution in Europe.

In 2016, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were the first countries to sign the intention statement (Memoria of understanding, MOU) to purchase these aircraft. These countries later also signed for the purchase of two aircraft and the option for another six aircraft. In 2017, Germany and Norway would also report for this project. Both countries signed the contract for the purchase of these aircraft on June 29, 2017. With these two partners on board, the number of aircraft to be purchased was already at seven. On February 14, 2018, Belgium also reported and the number of aircraft was expanded to eight. In the current contract there is still room for three optional aircraft on which European countries can purchase in the partnership. The EDA is now in the phase that they inform and guide the governments of interested countries in the purchase of these aircraft. The plan is that the first aircraft will be delivered in 2020. In the year 2023 the fleet should be complete (Full Operational Capability, FOC). In addition to the multinational MMT project, there are also countries that have indicated that they will fly the same A330MRTT aircraft under their own flag. Until now, these countries are France (12 tankers), Great Britain (14 tankers) and Australia (5 tankers). It is therefore the intention that these countries, together with the MMT partners, will make effective use of each other's tankers wherever necessary. Europe has therefore filled in its tanker need for the future with the purchase of these aircraft. The countries will cooperate intensively with the same equipment and will continue to train with each other on exercises such as the EART.




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