Officials involved in the multinational multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) fleet (MMF) – which will see eight adapted Airbus A330s pooled between five European nations – are keen to introduce more countries to the capability-sharing agreement.
Speaking at the show, the general manager of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), Peter Dohmen, said there has been further interest in MMF beyond existing confirmed participants Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway.
The NSPA is responsible for life-cycle management of the pooled fleet.
In addition to the eight aircraft already on contract, three more are listed as options, in case more states join the initiative. Dohmen stressed to FlightGlobal that being a member of the MMF does not mean that states have to bear the cost of operating a full-up tanker. "That's the beauty of this arrangement," he explains, highlighting NATO's "smart defence" concept.
Airbus Defence & Space is also hoping for increased interest, since this would lead to a further boost in sales. "Of course, we are interested in growing the MMF fleet," says Didier Plantecoste, head of MRTT and Airbus derivatives programmes. "MMF is a very strong programme, and it is important to us because it is a collaborative programme."
The first MMF aircraft was flown in November 2018, with a second example having made its debut in February.
Programme and industry officials used the show to mark the completion of initial trials with the MMF's directed infrared countermeasures and missile warning equipment, both of which are being supplied by Elbit Systems. The Israeli company's respective J-Music and PAWS IR systems are crucial for protecting the modified widebody against threats such as manportable air-defence systems.
Sasson Meshar, Elbit's vice-president of airborne electro-optics and laser systems, says flight testing with the countermeasures equipment integrated was successfully conducted in Spain last month.
"We did it in very challenging scenarios, together with the NSPA nations," he says. The DIRCM solution – which includes two turrets on the aircraft, adding a total weight of around 150-200kg (340-440lb) – will be certificated on the platform by September.
"This is not only a product milestone," says Dohmen. "I strongly believe that with this capability the MRTT will be able to fly much more safely."
The pooled assets will also have an MMF-specific medical evacuation configuration that will be certificated before first delivery, which is planned for May 2020.
Meanwhile, Plantecoste says he sees opportunities to "significantly enlarge" the current total fleet of A330 MRTTs, which stands at 60. He points to an undisclosed prospect in "the southern hemisphere". Other medium-term targets for Airbus include potential future requirements from Canada and Turkey, Airbus sources say.