The UK Ministry of Defence has delayed releasing a request for information (RFI) for the Royal Air Force's future strategic tanker aircraft programme for six months as Airbus Industrie and Boeing prepare to square off with respective proposed new military derivatives of the A310-300 and 767-300ER twinjets.

Manufacturers had been expecting the issue of an RFI in August, but have been told this will now be postponed until March 1999 at the earliest. According to industry sources, the release of the tanker RFI will not come until the defence ministry has first issued a request for proposals for the RAF's planned new strategic airlifter.

The release of the RFI is keenly awaited by Airbus and Boeing, which are increasingly focusing their tanker/transport efforts on the European market. Several air forces are looking to acquire an inflight refuelling capability, including Germany and Greece, but the RAF's programme is by far the largest and will be the most hotly contested.

It is anticipated the RAF will require between 20 and 28 aircraft depending on the size of tanker selected, with a final contract expected to be awarded in 2002. The new aircraft will initially replace the RAF's 14 converted BAC VC10 K.1/2/3s and in the longer term its six Lockheed L-1011 TriStar KC1s. There is also believed to be an anticipated requirement for a smaller tactical tanker version of the new Lockheed Martin C-130J.

Airbus' proposed Multi-Role Tanker Transport is based on the same A310 platform competing for Australia's airborne early warning programme. The RAF version would feature two underwing mounted Flight Refueling Mk.32B hose drum units with a 1,500litres/h (400 USgal/h) offload capability and a centre line unit coupled to a high flow pump capable of dispensing 2,275litres/ min. It would have the capacity to carry up to a total of 77,500kg (171,000lb) of fuel with the addition of five additional 7,200 litre centre belly tanks.

Boeing plans to offer a similarly configured three point tanker for probe-and-drogue type refuelling. It would be capable of carrying a total of 96,000kg of fuel, including up to 22,250kg in six removable auxiliary belly fuel tanks. Boeing intends to offer the RAF the option of an aerial refuelling boom to provide for compatibility with other NATO air forces. The US company says it is talks with UK potential partners to support and even fit out the aircraft locally.

Source: Flight International