EADS has been selected to supply three new inflight refuelling aircraft for the Royal Saudi Air Force, with the development coming as a welcome boost to the European company's Military Transport Aircraft division after several months dominated by news of a potentially one-year delivery delay to the Airbus Military A400M.
Riyadh's selection of the Airbus A330-based multirole tanker transport was confirmed on 3 January, with the aircraft to be equipped with under-wing hose and drogue pods and EADS Casa's advanced refuelling boom system. Saudi Arabia's tanker configuration is likely to be similar to the aircraft already undergoing flight test for the Royal Australian Air Force (pictured below), which expects its first of five KC-30Bs to achieve initial operational capability in late 2009.
© Northrop Grumman/EADS North America
Saudi Arabia's current air force inventory includes seven boom-equipped Boeing 707-based KE-3A tankers, plus six Lockheed Martin KC-130H tanker/transports, according to Flight's MiliCAS database. The new aircraft will provide an improved air-to-air refuelling capability to support operations outside the country, such as the August-September 2007 Exercise "Saudi Green Flag", during which the RSAF deployed eight Panavia Tornado interdictor strike aircraft to the UK. The MRTT fleet will also be used to extend the endurance of the service's future fleet of 72 Eurofighter Typhoons, a production deal for which was signed late last year.
The selection comes as a blow to Boeing, which had been offering its 767-based tanker already in production for Italy and Japan to meet the Saudi requirement. The design is also going head-to-head with the Northrop Grumman and EADS North America-promoted KC-30 to secure the US Air Force's massive KC-X tanker contract, a decision on which is anticipated later this year.
A further three A330-based tanker-transports have been selected by the United Arab Emirates, while the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft fleet will include 14 of the aircraft.