Australian defence minister Senator David Johnston has hinted that his government is considering acquiring additional Airbus Defence & Space KC-30/A330 multirole tanker transports (MRTTs) and Boeing C-17 strategic transports as part of a Defence White Paper currently in development.
Speaking to media on an MRTT flight during the multinational Exercise Pitch Black on 14 August, Johnston said: “When you get good service from a platform it prompts you to say: ‘why don’t you get some more?’ [The KC-30] allows us to go anywhere in our region and far and away beyond that.”
The Royal Australian Air Force currently has five KC-30s in service with 33 Sqn, based at Amberley air base in Queensland.
Despite being registered as a “Project of Concern” by the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation because of ongoing delays in clearing the aircraft’s Aerial Refuelling Boom System and other software-related issues, the KC-30 has recently performed a number of strategically relevant transport and refuelling tasks.
In recent months the fleet has operated a nonstop training mission from Darwin to Dallas-Fort Worth in the USA, has flown nonstop from Amberley to Anchorage in support of a Lockheed Martin C-130J deployment to Exercise Red Flag Alaska, and in June performed an 11h refuelling mission in support of RAAF Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornet and F/A-18F Super Hornet training missions at opposite ends of Australia.
The air force has also used its KC-30s and up to three C-17s in support of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 recovery mission in Ukraine, staging out of Eindhoven, in the Netherlands.
Two of Australia’s KC-30s are currently at Airbus Defence & Space’s Getafe facility near Madrid to support the boom development programme. “Modifications include software drops, boom and refuelling pod upgrades and there have been some physical changes,” the commander of the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group, Air Cdre Warren McDonald says. “It’s much improved and is meeting test expectations. Following the test modification programmes, the two aircraft in Spain will return to Australia by the end of this year or very early 2015.”
Johnston meanwhile describes the possibility of acquiring additional C-17s as a “no brainer”. The RAAF's 36 Sqn operates six of the type from Amberley. With the service's C-130Js used mostly in a tactical role, the opportunity to acquire two of the up to 12 unsold “white tail” C-17s Boeing will complete by early next year may prove tempting.
To be published in early 2015, Canberra’s new White Paper will outline Australia’s strategic direction for the following decade.
Source: Flight International