The French Air Force (ALAT) has taken delivery of the first modernised KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refuelling aircraft from the US at Air Base 125, near Istres, France.

A total of three French KC-135RG tankers have been upgraded by the US to primarily ensure compliance with the RENO global air traffic management (GATM) standard.

The new interface is claimed to enable navigation standards identical to those of US KC-135s and more efficient and secure integration into general air traffic.

The US engineers also equipped the aircraft with a high-frequency wire antenna while preserving the on-board intercom specific to the French aircraft, in addition to re-configuring the tanker to carry standard cargo pallets.

The French Air Force is set to undertake a series of test and evaluation flights of the new aircraft during the fourth quarter of this year, to establish specific operating and maintenance procedures.

"The new interface is claimed to enable more efficient and secure integration of navigation standards identical to those of US KC-135s."

In addition to technical experts from the French Air Force’s in-flight refuelling and strategic transport programme team, the future 31st In-Flight Refueling and Strategic Transport Wing is also expected to support the French defence procurement agency (DGA) during flight-testing and certification of the upgraded aircraft.

The French Air Force operates a total of 11 C-135FR and three KC-135R aircraft.

Developed from the Boeing 367-80 prototype, the KC-135 is a jet-powered refuelling tanker primarily designed to refuel long-range strategic bombers.

Powered by four CFM56 turbofan engines, the aircraft also provides aerial refuelling support to the US Air Force’s (USAF) bomber, fighter, cargo and reconnaissance forces, the US Navy, Marine Corps and allied aircraft.

The aircraft has been extensively used by USAF during the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm to extend the range and endurance of US tactical fighters and bombers.

Image: The first upgraded KC-135RG tanker at Istres air base in southern France. Photo: © P. Monnier/Armee del/Air.

Defence Technology