2013-06-09 The A330MRTT built by Airbus Military is an unusual product.
It can combine tanking a diversity of air platforms with the fuel carried in its wings, with significant cargo or passenger capacity as well. This multi-mission character of the plane – many things at once rather than having to be fitted for either or fueling or lift missions – and its size makes it unusual.
The plane is built on the foundation of the very successful A330 commercial aircraft, which is used widely and globally. When the A330MRTT was built, Airbus Military went back and redesigned the plane around new computer based designed tools and a new and even more robust plane emerged crafted for the tanking mission.
The capacity of the plane to be refueled itself – notably enhanced in some variants of the aircraft – can reinforce an important air base in the sky quality to a fleet of A330MRTTs.
In an earlier piece, we wrote about the role of such a tanker for the Gulf Cooperation Council.
With the fuel carried in the wings, the large deck of the A330 can be used to host a variety of air support capabilities: routers, sensors, communication nodes, etc.
Such a configuration along with the fuel re-supply capabilities of the A330 tanker makes this a flying air operational support asset.
If the model selected is similar to the model downselected initially by the USAF, it is refuelable in flight.
With the space available in the aircraft – again because of the fact that the fuel for refueling is carried in the wings – a crew rest area can be provided.
This means that the air tankers can stay aloft for a significant period of time as the refuelers are themselves refueled.
This in turn means that the refueling aircraft as a fleet can have a strategic impact.
Once the planes are airborne and they have access to refuelers for their own operational autonomy, the fleet can tank a variety of national or coalition partners operating from dispersed or diverse airfields.
And the discretion possible airborne can allow nations to tank a variety of coalition partners, some of whom might not be favorite candidates if seen on the ground.
Nowhere is this more important than in areas with very constricted geography.
And the GCC states operate with very little strategic depth nation by nation.
And the concurrent emergence of the A400M with its own refueling capabilities creates another aspect of thinking about the flying airfields to support operations, particularly expeditionary ones, like the one in Mali by the French forces.
The preparation of the A400M for its refueling role underscored the inherent task force qualities of the aircraft as part of a FLEET.
With a refuelable tanker, the tanker can be configured with crew rest areas and kept operational throughout the duration of an operation or mission sets. This larger tanker can fuel the A400M, which in turn can fuel elements of a sea-base operation or helos, UAVs, or whatever is needed to engage in close air support or insertion operations.
In effect, you are creating a refueling hub, which can support the wide range of air operations necessary in 21st century land and sea operations.
At the Airbus Military Trade Media event held at the end of May 2013, the head of the A330MRTT program provided an overview on the progress to date on rolling out the global fleet.
Obviously, this is the beginning, not the end of the story, for a key aspect of shaping such a fleet will be the key role of user groups in shaping further development of the aircraft over time as it deploys with global customers, who in turn will work together on a diversity of operations.
(For a comment on user groups see the following:
and also see the two newsletters below which discuss the experience to date of A330MRTT user groups:)
The briefing presented by Antonio Caramazana, Head of Airbus Military Derivatives Programs, can be seen below and provides an update on the roll out of the A330MRTT program as of May, 2013.
The building out of a global A330MRTT fleet can be seen below in the following table which summarizes the launch customers, their numbers of aircraft and provides some contents with regard to the program in terms of the particular customer.
Building Out of a Global A330MRTT Fleet
|Country||Total Orders to Date||Deliveries||Comments||Aircraft Tanked|
|Australia||5||5||Participation in international operational exercises;Operational deployments with RAAF F18s;Operational Evaluation for Pacific’s Alliance operations||Multiple Versions of F-18s|
|UK Air Tanker Contract||14||4||Role Change capability (between military and civilian configurations and registers);Three (3) in military configuration, and one (1) civil;Conversion of the remaining aircraft in Getafe from 2013 to 2016||Typhoons; Tornados|
|Saudi Arabia||6||3||Configured Similarly to Australian Tankers;Remaining three RSAF MRTT aircraft in production to be delivered between 2014-2015||RSAF Typhoons and Tornados|
|UAE||3||3 (By End of Summer 2013)||5 completed crews (2 pilots + 1 ARO + 1 MCO) trained;17 missions and more than 250 contacts||Mirage 2000-9s; UAE F-16s|
|India||Downselected in early 2013 with Numbers to be Announced Later||Probe and Drogue Configuration|
The Indian case is instructive of how the fleet can support the operational envelope of an emerging military power.
Dependent upon how the Indians address the use of the platform, the A330MRTT could become a key element not only enhancing operational capability but innovation as well….. The A330MRTT is an ideal tool to help India integrate its various maritime and air assets necessary to cover a wide territory for horizontal operations. India deploys its diversity of aircraft from more than 60 bases over the subcontinent. And it operates a virtual gaggle of aircraft, which as the fleet evolves could have really different tanking requirements and approaches.
The A330MRTT as a global tanker has been designed from the ground up to provide for the tanking of virtually every fighter, bomber or support aircraft flying today. And as the unmanned fleets or remotely piloted aircraft get added to the mix, the A330MRTT will be ready to refuel these as well.
In other words, the tanker is well designed for today and has growthability to deal with the next 50 years of the evolution of military aviation in mind. It is not narrowly constructed as a simple upgrade from the past but can grow with the combat and support fleets.
The following graphic summarizes the state of play for the A330MRTT as a global fleet today, which lays a solid foundation for growth in the future.