Military Capabilities

Europe urged to provide more aerial refuelling capacity

13 September 2018

Domecq has warned of a continued European tanker shortage if more MRTTs (pictured) and A400M refuelling kits are not purchased. Source: Dutch MoD

More nations need to join Europe’s Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) programme and to buy many more refuelling kits for the A400M if the region is to avoid a 30% gap in its air-to-air refuelling needs in the coming years, European military planners and defence policy officials said.

“Slowly we are catching up with the United States, but we are not there yet,” Jorge Domecq, chief executive of the European Defence Agency (EDA), told an aerial refuelling conference organised by his agency in Brussels on 12 September. “We will be 40 tankers short in 2025 if we don’t all step up our efforts.”

Currently, five nations have signed up to the EDA-initiated MRTT programme to cover the operational cost with specific numbers of annual flying hours: Belgium (1,000), Germany (5,500), Luxembourg (200), Netherlands (2,000), and Norway (100). Their collective commitment rests on an order of eight A330 MRTTs, with an option to buy three more that depends on more countries joining the programme. The fleet will be collectively owned and based at Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and Cologne-Wahn, Germany.

According to sources at the conference, three countries – the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Spain – are considering the MRTT, although nobody is placing any firm bets that they will join the programme.

“There is lobbying within the Czech [Ministry of Defence] – there’s a letter on the deputy minister’s desk arguing to join the MRTT – but money is tight and there are competing pet projects of the other services,” one participant told Jane’s at the conference. “If they sign up, it would probably be for a modest number of [operational] hours.”

As for Spain, “it is sitting on the fence – desiring the MRTT’s cost advantages [since the operating cost for all falls with each additional nation], but wanting the capability kept on its territory,” one EU official said.

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