The Airbus Tanker Adds a New Customer: The Dutch Air Force Joins the Global Fleet


2016-07-29 By Robbin Laird

An insertion force is characterized by strike, defense, lift, tanking and air battle management that can be effectively integrated to get to an objective area, and then to operate over and within until mission success.

Sustainable reach is a fundamental operational objective.

This means that lift and tanking assets are much more than “support” assets, they are part of the overall sustainable assault force.

For 21st century airpower, several changes are underway with regard to capabilities, and few can be more important than the arrival of new tankers, especially when adding multi-mission capabilities to its core function.

A virtual global fleet of Airbus tankers is emerging based on this need.

Now the Dutch Air Force is joining the virtual global fleet.

Dutch tanker as presented by Dutch MoD and credited to the Dutch MoD.
Dutch tanker as presented by Dutch MoD and credited to the Dutch MoD.

According to a press release by the Dutch Ministry of Defence, dated July 28, 2016:

The Netherlands is ready to purchase 2 Airbus tanker/transport aircraft with Luxembourg.  The aircraft will be NATO property and will be stationed at Eindhoven Air Base for pooling and sharing. Belgium, Germany, Norway and Poland intend to join the agreement at a later date. 

The MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) project is an example of the type of future-oriented collaboration between European countries that the government advocates. Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert wrote to the House of Representatives to that effect today.

The purchase of the MRTT A330 type aircraft is an important contribution in addressing the scarce tanker and transport capability of the European Union in particular. In addition to refuelling aircraft and strategic transports, MRTT aircraft can also be used for carrying out medical evacuations, if necessary in intensive care units.

Netherlands leading

The fleet will be NATO property. The European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European materiel organisation Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’ARmement (OCCAR) are closely involved in the purchase of the aircraft, on behalf on the NATO Support & Procurement Agency (NSPA). Luxembourg and the Netherlands will have exclusive user rights. In addition to the purchase, the MRTT project also covers maintenance and operational deployment. The Netherlands is the lead nation in this multinational collaboration project.

The new aircraft will be stationed at Eindhoven Air Base. The Netherlands will also be responsible for registering the aircraft and monitoring their airworthiness. A study will be carried out to determine whether European Air Transport Command, which is also stationed in Eindhoven, will be able to supervise the MRTT pool.

Costs and personnel will be allocated on the basis of the number of flying hours that each country needs. The expected life span of the fleet is 30 years and the investment budget is between €250 million and €1 billion.


The Netherlands and Luxembourg recorded the agreement in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The contract with Airbus was signed today. If Belgium, Germany, Norway and Poland decide to take part in the agreement, both the MoU and the quotation given by Airbus allow for expansion. If more countries do indeed decide to join, the design costs will be shared with these countries too, leading to lower costs for Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The number of A330 MRTT aircraft to be purchased could eventually rise to 8. According to the National Aerospace Laboratory, Eindhoven Air Base has sufficient room for manoeuvre in its allotted noise zones to accommodate 8 A330 MRTT aircraft.


The 2 participating countries are examining the possibility of collaboration with France and the United Kingdom, among others, in relation to training and instruction as well as maintenance. France is set to receive its first A330 aircraft in 2018. The United Kingdom already has A330 MRTTs in service.

The 2 aircraft will be delivered from 2020. In the same year, the Royal Netherlands Air Force will start to gradually decommission its 2 KDC-10 aircraft. This will ensure that tanker/transport capability will remain available to the Netherlands Defence organisation.

MMF Background White Paper

I have visited the KC-30A fleet at Amberly in Australia, and we have discussed the aircraft with RAAF personnel during a period of testing at Edwards AFB earlier this year.

I am currently in Australia and hope to re-visit Amberly next week to get an update on both the KC-30A and then the Wedgetail at Williamtown Air Base as well.

In 2008, the USAF selected the Airbus A300MRTT tanker. It was a clear winner from the standpoint of what the USAF wanted from a tanker.

But politics and the anomalies of the US acquisition process intruded and the next Administration picked a Boeing tanker, one which has yet to enter the USAF inventory.

For the USAF leadership, the Airbus tanker was clearly better, with its size and its ability to hold fuel in its wings, the potential for using the space on the aircraft, inside and out was especially compelling, notably with the introduction of the F-22 and the coming of the F-35 and its data rich generating capabilities.

The tanker could become part of the battlespace and work with fifth generation aircraft in a compelling manner.

There was much comment generated by the GAO, the press, analysts and pundits on that selection and that competition.

But the reality is the reality.

It is not just about points of view.

The A330 tanker has won every competition worldwide since the loss in the United States with the single exception of the recent announcement by Japan of adding the new Boeing tanker to their original order of a different variant of the 767 tanker. 

And the Australians, as the lead nation, have already demonstrated what a capable platform it is, and a centerpiece for the global reach of the RAAF.

With the USAF not becoming the lead nation for the new Airbus tanker, that task fell to Australia.

The Aussies normal acquisition path is to buy a foreign product, and work with the service or services who have put that platform into practice, and then work the platform into operations leveraging the work of the lead or operating force using the platform.

This was different.

The RAAF now was in the lead and worked with Airbus to bring the tanker into operation.

At the recent Airbus Defence and Space Trade Media Brief, an update was provided on the tanker from the operational and developmental point of view.

2016-06-26 Second Line of Defense attended the Airbus Defence and Space Trade Media Brief held in Munich Germany on June 20 and 21st 2016.

We will be reporting on a number of the presentations and the launch discussion of the new H Force weapons system by Airbus Helicopters.

In this first piece, we will focus upon the presentation by Jerónimo Amador, the head of marketing for the A330 MRTT and other Airbus derivatives.

The first day started with the head of Airbus Defence and Space, Dirk Hoke, greeting the journalists attending the two event. The CEO told the gathering that the new strategy of the sector would be announced in the Fall and launched then. But clearly, the presentations, which followed, highlighted elements of that strategy and foreshadowed the way ahead.

Probably, no two presentations highlighted this more than the one on the tanker or from a group perspective the H force weapons presentations and demonstration on day two. They did so in a core way: these are very flexible, modular, and upgradeable systems, with software upgradeability playing a key role.

The tanker is in the hands of several operational air forces, and as such is becoming an established global fleet.

The user groups are key drivers for further change in the program, and the correlation with the A330 means that innovations driven from the commercial sector can be applied as well to the military derivative, the A330 tanker.

The global nature of the fleet and its operations means that shared experiences are being generated and shared by the users….

An overview on the tanker was provided by Airbus Defence and Space in a press release dated July 2016:

The Airbus A330 MRTT Multi Role Tanker Transport Aircraft is the only new generation tanker/transport flying, and certified today, and is battle-proven in recent coalition operations.

In service with the air forces of Australia, UAE, Saudi Arabia and UK, the A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) provides military strategic air transport as well as air-to-air refuelling capabilities.

It is based on the latest medium to long range, twin-aisle, commercial aircraft of the Airbus fly-by-wire family, the A330. More than 1,600 of these have been sold to over 100 customers and nearly 1,300 are operated all around the globe, ensuring easy support and many years of commercial life ahead.

The civil version from which the A330 MRTT is derived, the A330-200, already benefits from the most up-to-date design and manufacturing techniques, and integrates the most advanced avionics as well as proven fly-by-wire control systems which allow total flight envelope protection.

Representing the state-of-the-art in its category, the A330-200 has a maximum range of 8,000 nm/ 14,800 km, with a maximum speed of Mach 0.86. It is the primary choice as a platform for a tanker/transport, offering the best performance at the lowest investment and costs, and has won every major competition outside the USA that it has entered since launch.

Critically, the A330-200 wing is large enough to hold all the fuel needed in the tanking role without requiring any additional fuel tanks and so avoiding any reduction in its ability to carry passengers or cargo.

For air-to-air refuelling missions, the A330 MRTT is provided with the advanced Airbus Defence and Space Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS), to refuel receptacle-equipped aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-35 Lightning II, or even the A330 MRTT itself (when fitted with an UARRSI).

The Airbus Military ARBS is the only new generation boom in service, permitting the fastest fuel transfer rate and greatly reducing the refuelling operation time. Refuelling can be performed at any altitude up to 35,000 ft while cruising at speeds between 180 kt and 300 kt.

To refuel probe-equipped receivers such as Eurofighter, Tornado, Mirage and Sukhoi models, the A330 MRTT is fitted with two Cobham 905E under-wing hose and drogue pods.

All the AAR (Air to Air Refuelling) systems are controlled from an advanced Fuel Operator Console that is positioned in the cockpit and features an Enhanced Video monitoring System to perform day and night refuelling.

To go further or stay longer on station, the A330 MRTT can be fitted with a Universal Aerial Refuelling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI) which allows refuelling from another tanker’s boom.

Able to refuel any receiver, the A330 MRTT can carry up to 111 tonnes / 245,000 lb of fuel in its tanks. In a deployment mission, the A330 MRTT enables four Eurofighters, to fly 3,600 nm / 5,794 km by refuelling them en-route, or, when carrying 20 tonnes / 44,800lb of payload, to deploy four fighters a distance of 2,800 nm / 4,500km.

The A330 MRTT can also be used on “towline” missions, whereby it can be on station at about 1,000 nm /1,600km from its base for some four hours 30 minutes, with the capability to provide 50 tonnes of fuel to receivers. Or it can provide 60 tonnes /2,170 pounds of fuel while remaining on station for five hours at 500 nm / 800 km from base. This exceeds by far what any other current tanker can offer.

With its true widebody fuselage, the A330 MRTT is ideal to carry a wide range of military or humanitarian payloads on strategic missions. Its cabin is designed to ensure optimum seating configurations in every class, maximising both capacity and comfort. It can accommodate a large variety of layouts, ranging from 253 seats in a three-class configuration, through 298 passengers in two classes, or more than 300 in a single class layout. The cabin is furnished with an attractively modern design.

These features enable a complete range of configurations, from pure troop transport to the complex customization required for VIP guests.

The A330 MRTT is also designed to carry a payload of up to 45 tonnes/99,000 lb.

Thanks to its optimised fuselage cross section, the cargo can conveniently be carried under-floor in any of the standard containers and pallets, ranging from the LD1 to LD3 and LD6, as well as the standard 88×108 inch 463-L NATO military pallets, which can be loaded onto the aircraft through a proven semi-automatic cargo loading system. Some of the cargo can also be carried as non-palletised “bulk”.

The main deck cargo compartment can also be used for cargo, as required, when the aircraft is specified as a freighter. In this instance the main deck is fitted with a large upper deck cargo door and cargo loading devices in the main deck floor. This allows the A330 MRTT to carry up to 26 88×108 inch 463-L NATO military pallets.

Furthermore, the aircraft can also be configured as a combi, to carry freight in the forward part of the main deck and passengers in the aft part.

The A330 MRTT can also be used for medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), as its cabin can easily be converted to accommodate up to 130 stretchers.

It is offered with a customised suite of military avionics and a mission system integrated with civil avionics. A comprehensive survivability package including a Defensive Aid System, fuel tank inerting system and an armoured cockpit are all available.

Already ordered by Australia, France, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom, the A330 MRTT has also been selected by India and Qatar.

The slideshow above shows an Australian KC-30A crew attending the recent RIAT air show in the United Kingdom.