NATO is preparing a major boost to its ability to refuel aircraft in mid-air, with the signature of an agreement between the Netherlands and Luxembourg to acquire two Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (A330 MRTT) aircraft. The new tankers will be acquired on behalf of the participating nations and NATO. They can support NATO and European Union operations, as well as multinational and national ones.
Air-to-air refueling tankers are critical to long-distance deployments in support of other aircraft. NATO’s air campaigns in Kosovo and Libya have identified air-to-air refueling as a critical shortfall in European military capabilities. Individual Allies, as well as NATO and the EU, have been working to address this shortfall.
The Airbus tankers will be able to refuel a wide range of aircraft such as NATO AWACS surveillance planes; F-35, F-16 and Rafale fighter aircraft; and C-17 transport planes. Refuelling can be performed at an altitude up to 35,000 ft while cruising at speeds between 180 knots and 325 knots. The planes will be equipped to perform a wide range of functions in addition to air-to-air refueling such as passenger transport, cargo movement and medical evacuation. Thanks to their flexibility, they will increase European capabilities in strategic passenger transport, cargo transport and medical emergency transport.
The first two aircraft will be assembled in Toulouse, France, and converted into tankers in Getafe, Spain. They will be delivered to NATO in 2020, and will be based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. More Allies are expected to join this initiative, thus enlarging the fleet in the years ahead.