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RAAF evolving air-to-air refuelling expertise

The crew of a US Navy P-8A observes a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A tanker air-refuelling their aircraft during the fleet certification period of the Royal Australian Navy on 20 March 2022. (US Navy)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is evolving its operational air-to-air refuelling (AAR) expertise to facilitate interoperability with allied countries.

On 20 March an Airbus KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) from the RAAF's No 33 Squadron carried out the first-ever operational AAR of a US Navy (USN) P-8A aircraft. The refuelling was conducted using the MRTT's Advanced Refuelling Boom System (ARBS).

In a statement, the office of the commander of the USN's Pacific Fleet said that the AAR was co-ordinated to facilitate interoperability between the RAAF and USN forces. The ‘customer' aircraft was a P-8A of the USN's Patrol Squadron 47 (VP-47).

The AAR was conducted during the fleet certification period of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). This consisted of exercises between the RAN and USN units, especially in anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

The USN added that AAR required the KC-30A and the P-8A to fly in close formation at 804 km/h (500 mph). It included “aligning the two planes so that the 55-foot-long refuelling boom can be connected to commence refuelling”, the statement said.

Group Captain Taylor, commander of the RAAF's 86th Wing added that the “AAR provides a means to overcome problems for the combined forces operating in the Indo-Pacific region, in particular, by allowing aircraft to operate at much greater distances”.

The RAAF is scheduled to conduct a second aerial refuelling compatibility confirmation test in April, with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). In a statement, the JASDF said that the tests will improve operational “capacities”.

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