Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) is fundamental for effective air power projection and is required to sustain combat operations. AAR is a multidimensional domain, pilots can extend radius and flight time, thus allowing for more complex missions to be performed. While of paramount importance to European armed forces, AAR is strategic asset where Member States have faced significant capability shortfalls, highlighted by operations in Mali, Libya and Kosovo. Europe’s military tanker fleet is fragmented and currently stands at 42 tanker aircraft of 12 different types, compared to the 550 tankers of 4 types of the United States.
Back in 2013, facing a critical shortfall of a strategic asset, AAR was designated by EU leaders as one of the four key programmes on which the European Defence Agency (EDA) and its Member States should work together to overcome. Since then, EDA has developed a three work strand ‘global approach’ to alleviate AAR shortfall through; optimization of existing capabilities, introduction of the A400M fleet AAR capability, and increasing the strategic taker capability in European by 2020 (MMF).
EART 2017: Putting existing assets to use
From March 26 to 7 April 2017, the 4th European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training (EART 2017) exercise took place at Eindhoven Airbase in the Netherlands. EART 2017 represents an important building block in the first process of optimizing existing capabilities. Four European nations (Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and France) took part in the exercise, organised by the European Air Transport Command (EATC).
Introduced in 2014 following EDA’s AAR initiative, the EART concept is dedicated AAR training focused on maintaining proficiency and enhancing knowledge of multinational tanker aircraft. These exercises allow air crews, planners, taskers and engineers to plan and execute missions in a complex COMAO (composite air operation) environment. EART is an effective way for European forces to optimise the use of current tanker assets, while practising together increases standardisation and interoperability. Exercises are organised on a yearly basis and are pooled with the multinational Frisian Flag fighter exercise that operates from Leeuwarden Airbase. The overall results demonstrate the benefits of joint training for interoperability, while public interest in this domain grows.