Some 200 experts, stakeholders, industry representatives and political/military decision-makers from the European, transatlantic and international Air-to-Air Refueling (AAR) community gathered today in Brussels for the 1st AAR Conference in Europe organized by the European Defence Agency (EDA).
The event was opened with speeches and presentations by the Belgian Minister of Defence, Steven Vandeput, the Assistant Secretary General for NATO Defence investments, Camille Grand, the chairman of the Aerial Refueling Systems Advisory Group (ARSAG), General John Sams, as well as the EDA Chief Executive, Jorge Domecq. Subsequent high-level speakers included the Commander of the European Air Transport Command (EATC), Maj. Gen. Laurent Marboeuf, the Mobilization Assistant to the Commander US Air Forces in Europe, Maj. Gen. John B.Williams, the Director of the Dutch Military Aviation Authority, Cdre. Jean-Paul Apon, the Chairman of the Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF), Cdr. Dick Kreiter, NATO Director Armament & Aerospace Capabilities (Defence Investment Division), Dr Giorgio Cioni, General Vincenzo Camporini from the Instituto Affari Internazionali as well as EDA Capability, Armament and Technology (CAT) Director, Martin Konertz.
The conference discussed the current state of play (notably Europe’s shortfall in this domain) as well as the future opportunities and challenges of Air-to-Air Refuelling from a European, transatlantic and international perspective. In successive sessions and panels, the political, operational and regulatory aspects and problems were analysed and possible solutions discussed.
In his speech, EDA Chief Executive Jorge Domecq praised AAR as a domain in which Europe is catching up on its shortfall in full complementarity with NATO. Even though Europe is still heavily dependent on US AAR assets, “it is slowly but surely catching up thanks to national and multinational Air-to-Air Refuelling initiatives which aim to develop a future capability that meets our operational requirements”, Mr Domecq said. The aim is not to duplicate NATO efforts but for Europe to be able to act and to become credible partners, he stressed. “I very much welcome our NATO partners to this conference. The work we do together in AAR is exemplary for how we promote close EU-NATO cooperation. The joint political commitment complemented by the excellent staff-to-staff cooperation led to a synchronized and harmonized approach towards dealing with the AAR shortfall, both on the NATO and EU side”. The EDA’s AAR activities are fully synchronized with the NATO’s roadmap on AAR improvements. “This prevents unnecessary duplication but more important creates opportunities for more collaboration (…) By increasing the European AAR capability, the participating nations also strive to meet their NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) targets”, Mr Domecq stated. “The MMF is a perfect example on how to get from the shortfall to a capability”.
Conference participants widely agreed that considerable work still lies ahead as Europe’s remaining 30% AAR shortfall, especially during operations, cannot be fixed overnight. Discussions pointed at a variety of complementary steps that should be taken to fill the gap in the comping years, in particular:
- promote and further expand the Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) beyond the five current participating countries (Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Norway, Belgium). To date, the fleet has ordered eight A330 MRTT aircraft the delivery of which is expected between 2020 and 2022. There are currently three options for additional aircraft in place (potential increase to 11 aircraft in total);
- encourage European countries with national AAR programmes in place to procure more assets, especially Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft;
- increase the procurement of A-400M wing pods to be pooled and shared;
- improve the standardization and streamlining of the international tanker clearance process.
In December 2013, EU Heads of State and Government acknowledged AAR as a key capability shortfall and tasked the EDA to work on it. AAR subsequently became one of the Agency’s Key Capability Programmes and the subject of an EDA Pooling and Sharing initiative which eventually led to the creation of a Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF). OCCAR, Europe’s organization for the management of cooperative armament programmes, manages the MMF acquisition phase whereas the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) will be responsible for the complete life-cycle management of the fleet (A330 MRTT). The fleet is funded by the participating nations who will also have the exclusive right to use these NATO–owned aircraft which will operate in a pooling arrangement. The aircraft will be configured for inflight refuelling, the transport of passengers and cargo, and medical evacuation flights.