Europe's slow pace of progress in developing shared military capabilities will again be put to the test in early February, when 26 EU countries will be urged to address a critical shortfall in air-to-air refuelling.

Despite having an annual budget of only €32 million ($45 million) and just 110 staff, the European Defence Agency says it will "confront the nations", after spending almost five years asking them to consider approving funds for a pooled fleet of multirole tanker/transports.

Only seven European nations currently possess tanker aircraft, but many more have a requirement to use what is an expensive capability to acquire, and an at-best difficult one to barter access to.

The more than 25-year success of the multinational NATO Early Warning and Control Force and the recent acquisition of three Boeing C-17 strategic transports by a 12-country consortium should be proof enough of what can be done in partnership. The Heavy Airlift Wing delivered vital humanitarian aid to earthquake-affected Haiti just months after fielding its C-17s.

A small European fleet of tanker aircraft - or even a commitment to buy services from a commercial supplier, such as the already circling Omega Air - would further boost co-operation between air forces, and enable smaller nations to deploy aircraft more easily for international training, peacekeeping or even combat missions. That can only be good for all concerned.

Source: Flight International