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AVALON: RAAF A330 MRTT makes strong combat debut

As a Royal Australian Air Force Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) continues to support operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the service is placing a major emphasis on getting the type's long-delayed boom refuelling capability on-line.

In a presentation at the Airbus chalet at the Avalon air show, Air Cdre Warren MacDonald says RAAF KC-30As (as the type is designated in Australian service) have operated 1,300 hours in support of coalition forces, offloading about 3.5 million tonnes of fuel every month since September 2014.

"This aircraft can fly 1,000nm, stay there for four hours, and offload 60 metric tonnes of fuel," says MacDonald. "This is an incredible capability for the RAAF."

He says the combat reliability of the converted airliner, which entered service in 2013 after years of delays, has been extremely good, with just one mission in several hundred scratched.

The RAAF is making much greater use of the asset now. Prior to 2014, the RAAF's KC-30A fleet would likely to "only scratch out 1,300 hours a year." In 2015, however, this will rise to 4,500h.

MacDonald says the aircraft's Link 16 datalink capability has been of great use over Iraq, allowing the tanker to monitor combat assets and "follow the fight." This allow it to refuel fighters closer to the combat zone. In one instance, an RAAF KC-30A supporting US Marine Corps McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harriers actually spotted a firefight on the ground, and was able to vector in combat aircraft.

All of these refuelling missions have been conducted using the hose-and-drogue method.

Aside from the type's combat debut, 2014 also saw a strong push to bring the aircraft's boom refuelling system online. To this end, one KC-30A was dispatched to Airbus Defence & Space's facility in Seville, Spain, bringing the number of RAAF KC-30As in the country to two. The aircraft performed 160 fights, and made 300 boom contacts.

MacDonald said this went "exceptionally well." Both aircraft will return to Australia this year, and by mid-2015 the boom should be operational.

By 2023, only 36 RAAF aircraft will still use hose-and-drogue refuelling, its 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets and 12 EA-18G Growlers. The remaining 100 aircraft in its fleet, including the Lockheed Martin F-35, will require boom refuelling.

This is the reverse of the status quo, as 95 RAAF aircraft use hose-and-drogue for air-to-air refuelling, and 17 use the boom.

Moreover, the boom is essential for refuelling aircraft from allied forces, namely Singapore's F-15s and F-16s, and USAF assets. MacDonald says the RAAF will speak to Singapore later this year about clearing the KC-30A to refuel its assets.

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