Airbus Defence and Space will soon begin talks with the Netherlands, Poland and Norway for the sale of a fleet of A330 multirole tanker transport (MRTT) and air-to-air refuelling aircraft.
Facilitated by the European Defence Agency, the initiative is in accordance with the March 2012 declaration of European Defence Ministers to further develop European air-to-air refuelling capabilities, as well as with the letter of intent signed by ten nations in November 2012.
Specifically, the initiative consists of the pooled acquisition and operation of a common fleet of aircraft by the three countries.
Following market research supported by a targeted request for information, the countries have identified that only one military off-the-shelf solution met their key requirements in terms of capabilities and timeframe.
Thus, the nations agreed to create a Nato Support Agency (NSPA) partnership that tasked the Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’ARmement (OCCAR) to prepare negotiations with Airbus for a possible acquisition of a fleet of A330 MRTT.
The common MRTT fleet would have a single configuration, and would be fitted with a rigid boom as well as underwing pods, enabling refuelling of a large variety of receivers while meeting the users’ requirements in terms of passenger transport, strategic airlift, and medical evacuation.
According to EDA, the development of synergies with similar fleets would help the nations to further contribute to a reduced fragmentation and increased interoperability of air-to-air refuelling aircraft in Europe.
In December 2013, the European Council also endorsed air-to-air refuelling as one of four key capability programmes to be developed by European member states.
Apart from the participating nations, other countries are also being invited to contribute to the overall programme by joining the acquisition phase and / or in-service phase.
An initial operating capability of the fleet is expected for 2019.
A military variant of the civilian Airbus A330-200 airliner, the A330 is designed to perform air-to-air refuelling without any additional fuel tanks, and cargo, troop transport, and medical evacuation missions.
Image: An Airbus A330 multirole tanker transport in flight. Photo: courtesy of European Defence Agency.