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NATO trio could pool A330 tanker fleet

A consortium of NATO nations could acquire a four-strong fleet of Airbus A330 multi-role tanker/transports (MRTT), the European Defence Agency (EDA) has announced.

Announcing the development on 19 December, the multinational agency said: “The Netherlands, Poland and Norway have decided to prepare negotiations with Airbus Defence & Space for a fleet of A330 MRTT multirole transport and air-to-air refuelling aircraft.”

The decision comes after an analysis determined that “only one military off-the-shelf solution met their key requirements in terms of capabilities and timeframe,” the EDA says. A configuration with under-wing hose and drogue refuelling pods and a refuelling boom has been chosen, and the MRTT also would “meet the user’s requirements in terms of passenger transport, strategic airlift, and medical evacuation”.

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Expected to achieve initial operational capability during 2019, the pooling initiative will also be opened to enable additional nations to participate, “through joining the acquisition and/or in-service phase,” the EDA says.

The Dutch defence ministry says it hopes to see a contract finalised in 2016, with the new aircraft to be operational from 2020, when its air force’s current two McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tankers. NATO could potentially house and maintain the future fleet at its Eindhoven air base, it adds.

However, it adds: “This engagement in further negotiations does not constitute a commitment by the EDA, NATO Support Agency, OCCAR [procurement agency] or the participating nations to place an order.”

Of the three programme partners, only the Netherlands has a current tanker capability. Poland has also been pursuing a possible national-only acquisition of two aircraft, with Airbus offering the A330 and an Israel Aerospace Industries-led team a modified fleet of Boeing 767-200ERs.

Only one NATO air force currently operates the A330 MRTT, with the UK Royal Air Force using an eight-strong fleet supplied via the AirTanker consortium. France has also confirmed its intention to buy 12 of the type, for delivery from 2018.

The tanker/transport is also today used by the air forces of Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an order also in place from Singapore, and pending deals to be finalised with India and Qatar.

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