European Defense Agency has published a Statement according to which the Netherlands, Norway and Poland have expressed their will to start negotiations with the Airbus Defence & Space Company, regarding acquisition of the MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) aircraft.
As shown by the Air War in Libya in 2011, tankers are among the most important assets in any modern military air campaign. Several European air forces lack the (somehow basic) capability to project the air power by supporting their front line fighter jets and attack planes with aerial refuelers and, in light of the ever shrinking defense budgets, they are looking at the “pooling and sharing” principle to optimize resources.
Therefore, whilst Sweden, has already started collective aerial refueling activities with the Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767, (along with France and the UK), Norway, Poland and the Netherlands have decided to create a joint tanker force based on the Airbus A330 MRTT.
Back in March 2012, Defense Ministries of these countries declared that they were willing to further develop the air-refueling capability among the European air forces. This initiative has also been endorsed by the European Council, which considers it to be one of the four key programs within the scope of operational capability development. What is interesting, more partner states are invited to participate in the program, further on the road, which means that they may join the initiative later on. Initial Operational Capability is expected to be obtained by 2019.
The Netherlands, along with Norway and Poland decided to use NSPA (NATO Support Agency) support and to ask OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’ARmement) for help within the scope of starting the relevant negotiations with the Airbus Defence & Space company.
According to altair.com.pl the negotiations do not mean that any agreement would be signed afterward. Indeed, the release published on the official website of the European Defense Agency states that “(…) engagement in further negotiations does not constitute a commitment by EDA, NSPA, OCCAR or the Participating nations to place an order either as a result of this dialogue or at a subsequent stage.”
Market research, carried out via the means of targeted requests for information, has revealed that only the MRTT aircraft meets the requirements formulated by the parties. The tanker is to be equipped with two refueling systems – a flying boom as well as underwing pods with hoses, in order to facilitate refueling of a variety of aircraft (even though, so far, the three participating nations are using the F-16 as their main fighter, which is refueled via the rigid boom-based system).
Another important issue which should be noted is the fact that Airbus MRTT is not dedicated solely to refueling tasks, as it is also quite capable transport aircraft. The transport capabilities may be useful in case of strategic airlift or MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) operations.
Image credit: Airbus