The Royal Australian Air Force and Airbus Defence & Space will launch a joint study into how to add capability to the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).

The aim of the work will be to better use the presence of such a large airborne asset operating near a combat zone, says Fernando Alonso, chief executive of Airbus Military.

The project, called Smart Tanker, will explore the possibility of using the MRTT, which the RAAF designates the KC-30A, as a communications node or a command and control centre.

Other applications to be explored include how the KC-30A could be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconaissance (ISR) work, or how it may be employed for covert operations.

The project will also explore how to increase automation in the jet’s refueling boom. This could help alleviate the issue of air refueling officer (ARO) fatigue, and make boom movements more predictable for the pilots of incoming aircraft.

Now, AROs manipulate two control columns to direct the boom and refueling arm to the incoming jet. The system envisaged, says Alonso, would allow incoming jets to be refueled with very little ARO intervention.

The RAAF operates five KC-30As, with orders for two additional aircraft.

Airbus first mooted the concepts enshrined in Smart Tanker to users of the A330 MRTT in 2016. Of the type’s operators, the RAAF was the most enthusiastic, says Alonso.