During the meeting of the EDA steering board on 19 November, defence ministers from ten European states signed a letter of intent to work together to boost their military air-to-air refuelling capacity.
Air-to-air refuelling (AAR) is a critical enabler for air power projection and it is required to enable anything beyond short range air combat operations. A unique force multiplier, it is a fundamental capability embedded in modern aircraft design, not just in combat aircraft, but across the full spectrum of air platforms – including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
In the past, European armed forces have relied substantively on American assets. This was originally demonstrated in the Kosovo campaign, and the increased reliance on the US was a lesson from operations over Libya. Currently, Europe can field 42 aircraft of ten different types, which compares with US resources of over 650 of four types.
Defence ministers tasked the Agency in March 2012 to work on air-to-air refuelling capabilities as a priority. Consequently, EDA has developed a global approach with three objectives: increasing overall capacity, reducing fragmentation of the fleet, and optimising the use of assets. This work has finally led to four complementary work-strands, on some of which EDA is cooperating closely with OCCAR:
- Facilitating access to commercial AAR services;
- Optimisation of use of existing capabilities which can include the sharing of surplus capacities for example;
- Optimisation of the A400M fleet AAR capability including the option for acquiring additional AAR kits;
- Increasing the strategic tanker capability in Europe by 2020.
Letter of intent
With the letter of intent signed by defence ministers on 19 November, defence ministers from Belgium, France, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Norway have now agreed to envisage buying or leasing new tanker aircraft together. The initiative is led by the Netherlands. The objective of the initiative is to contribute to reducing the existing shortfalls in the field of strategic air to air refuelling and transport whilst contributing to streamlining the European inventories. The aim is to reach an initial European strategic Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) capability by 2020. The aircraft will be available for multinational and national use. EDA expects that the pooled acquisition will result in important synergies in terms of initial overall investment, interoperability and life costs.
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Picture credit: Airbus