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European Strategic Multi-Role Tanker
Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF)

Air-to-Air Refueling is an area where Europe faces critical capability shortfalls. This has been exposed in operations in Mali, Libya, and Kosovo, where European forces had to rely heavily on US assets. In order to address this shortfall the European Defence Agency is working on solutions for the short, medium, and long term. Since 2012 EDA has been working on 3 workstrands: Optimization of existing assets, A400M AAR capability and Strategic Tanker Capability (MMF). This was confirmed at the European Council December 2013, where Heads of State and Government set Air-to-Air Refueling as one of the four key capability areas for EDA to focus on. On 29 June 2017, defence Ministers from Germany and Norway joined a Memorandum of Understanding for a European multinational fleet of Airbus tanker transport aircraft, originally created by the lead-nation Netherlands and Luxembourg. The two countries launched the initiative in July 2016 by ordering two Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft, which were due to be delivered in 2020. With Germany and Norway joining the initiative, the fleet was expected to expand to up to seven aircraft.

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 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.

Significant steps taken during the course of 2012 in the areas of Air-to-Air Refuelling involved the signature of a Letter of Intent on the "Implementation a European Strategic Multi-Role Tanker Transport Initiative. Ten European countries agreed in November 2012 to work together to boost their military air-to-air refueling capacity either by buying new tanker aircraft, leasing them or paying to borrow another country's tankers when not in use. In Air to Air Refuelling (AAR), the EU objective is to improve European operational capacity and reduce dependency on the USA. The key deliverable could be the multinational acquisition of multirole tanker transport aircraft, foreseen for 2020. This would also include cooperation in the areas of aircraft-basing, training and logistics support. In the meantime, short and mid-term solutions are being pursued with a view to increasing interoperability and maximizing the use of existing assets. Taken together, these inter-related work-strands will considerably enhance Europe’s AAR capability.

With the letter of intent signed by defence ministers on 19 November 2012, 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.

The Programme was initially launched in July 2016 by The Netherlands and Luxembourg. In a signing ceremony on 25 September, 2017, the current Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) contract was amended to include both Germany and Norway as participants to the MMF project along with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Mr. Arturo Alfonso-Meiriño, OCCAR Director, Mr. Bernhard Brenner, Airbus Defence & Space Executive Vice President Marketing and Sales, and Mr. Didier Plantecoste, Airbus Defence & Space Head of Tanker Programmes and Derivatives officially signed the amendment at OCCAR-EA offices in Bonn, Germany.

This amendment exercises a contract option to significantly increase the scope of the project from the two A330 MRTT aircraft initially ordered to seven aircraft in total, including also options for up to four additional aircraft (potential increase to 11 aircraft in total). The contract amendment signifies an important evolution of the MMF Programme as a key capability for NATO and European Air Forces, demonstrates the increasing confidence of European nations in the cooperative solution achieved by the European Union and NATO and recognizes the A330 MRTT product. Further nations are expected to join the MMF in the future and to exercise the available contract options.

After Germany and Norway joined the Programme in 2017, Belgium followed in early 2018. Airbus Defence and Space has received a firm order for an Airbus A330 MRTT Multi Role Tanker Transport from Europe’s organisation for the management of cooperative armament programmes – OCCAR – on behalf of NATO Support & Procurement Agency (NSPA). The order follows the announcement on 14 February of Belgium’s official accession to the European/NATO Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) program.

This arrangement is open to other European Nations who have expressed their interest and additional aircraft are already considered as options in the current contract to accommodate the potential operational needs of further nations. The Airbus A330-200 is a new generation strategictanker/transport aircraft. The large 111 tonnes basic fuel capacity enables the aircraft to excel in air-to-air refuelling missions without the need for any additional fuel tanks within the passenger area. The aircraft is offered with a choice of proven air-to air refuelling systems. Thanks to its true widebody fuselage, it can also be used as a pure transport aircraft able to carry up to 267 troops, or a payload of up to 45 tonnes. It can also be easily converted into Medical Evacuation Confi guration to accommodate up to 6 Intensive Care Units and 16 stretchers.

The contract with Airbus Defence and Space was signed in July 2016 and the Programme Division was setup on 1st September 2016 in Bonn. The MMF contract covered the acquisition of 8 aircraft and options for up to 3 additional aircraft, potentially increasing the total number to 11 aircraft. Many nations are closely following the Programme and showing interest in the additional options available.

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Page last modified: 01-04-2019 16:58:39 ZULU