In a first for the Royal Australian Air Force, an Airbus Defence & Space KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft has conducted refuelling contacts with a Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter.
The four hour sortie took place from Edwards AFB in California, and saw the KC-30A perform 59 boom contacts, says Australia’s Department of Defence in a statement. Of these, five contacts were “wet” and included the transfer of 43,200lb of fuel to the USAF F-35A.
“Our KC-30A is an essential force multiplier,” says air force chief AM Leo Davies. “Mid-air refuelling is critical to ensuring global reach for our aircraft, our people and our equipment. Refuelling between the KC-30A and F-35A is an important step towards the KC-30A’s achievement of Final Operational Capability (FOC) and represents continued progress in the development of the F‑35A.”
Canberra’s KC-30As – a variant of the A330 airliner - are capable of refuelling aircraft via a boom or with wing-mounted hose-and-drogue equipment. Both systems have been used by a KC-30A engaged in combat operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Australia operates five KC-30As and will receive an additional pair in 2018. 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.
In early 2015, Australia removed the KC-30A from its ‘Projects of Concern’ list following remediation work related to the type’s aerial refuelling boom. The type was on the list since February 2010 owing to a number of project delays. Extensive work has been undertaken by Airbus in Spain related to the capability.