We are closer to a European shared Aerial Refueling Capability

A No. 33 Squadron KC-30 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft carries out a training sortie.

“Pooling and Sharing” may soon apply to the Aerial Refueling capability.

As we reported it at the end of last year, Poland, the Netherlands and Norway are willing to acquire shared aerial refueling capabilities. According to the information obtained by Polish media outlet defence24.pl, Poland’s share in the program is 22 percent, proportional to the flight hours allocated to the Polish Air Force.

In his interview for defence24, Jacek Sońta, spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Defense stated that the request for proposal is about to be sent to the contractor – the Airbus company, which will provide the Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) aircraft – by the OCCAR agency (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en Matière D’armement – Organization for joint cooperation within the field of armament), part of EDA (European Defense Agency), on behalf of the program member states.

Analysts highlighted that the tanker fleet spending is not contained within the Polish MoD’s “Technical Modernization Plan,” however, the Polish F-16 fighter jets are already using the refueling services provided to them by RNlAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force) and it is quite likely that the budget allocated to the AAR (air-to-air refueling) missions will be shifted to the program led by the EDA.

According to the report published by Aviation Week, ultimately up to four A330 MRTTs are going to be used for carrying out the refueling tasks. The basic plan assumes that the tankers are to reach the operational capabilities by 2019, and the program itself is to begin in mid-2020. The relevant agreement is scheduled to be signed next year, according to the information provided by the Polish MoD.

What is more, Aviation Week sheds some light on the operational details pertaining the joint aerial refueling initiative: the fleet of tankers is going to be based at the Eindhoven Air Base, even though the program assumes that forward operating locations will be established within the territories of the program participants. Airbus is going to provide the A330 tankers with both the flying boom, as well as the hose-and-drogue refueling systems.

One of the air bases in Poland that is probably going to host the tankers is Powidz AB, home for the Polish Air Force’s fleet of the Hercules transport aircraft, and equipped with a sufficiently long runway. So far it has accommodated large aircraft such as the E-4B, the AWACS, and more recently – the USAF A-10 deployment, which was a part of the Theater Security Package deployed to Europe, in the light of the Ukrainian Crisis.

Aviation Week also duly notes that the initiative is going to constitute a replacement for the Dutch KC-10 tankers, while in case of Norway it is going to seriously bolster the F-35 program. In case of Norway and Poland, utilizing the tanker would be a novelty. The whole program stems from the fact that, so far, the European air forces were relying on the US air refueling assets during training as well as real operations (like in Libya or the Balkans). Thus, a new, independent tanker program would provide the Europeans with a higher degree of independence.

The formal procedures related to the multinational use of the aerial-refueling capabilities are yet to be created.

Notably, the Airbus’s aircraft could also be used for multi-role transport operations and support several different duties, including the deployments of land forces abroad.

Image credit: © Commonwealth of Australia 2015

 

About Jacek Siminski 250 Articles
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of DefensePhoto.com. Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.