The Royal Australian Air Force is expressing long-term interest in development of "smart tanker" capabilities for its five Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transports to help support expanding airborne networking requirements.

Air force chief Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd says that networking of air assets remains a major challenge, but adds that a rapid expansion of Link 16 capabilities is under way. "We are aware of where we want to go, and we are aware of where we are," he says. "It is going to be a big job to get there and not just on the platforms. It is easy to talk about this whole network system, but there has got to be a lot of work put into tactical datalinks".

Shepherd says the RAAF is now eyeing a growth path for its MRTTs, the first of which will be delivered in 2009. "We are aware of what America is doing in terms of turning their cargo and tanker planes into a smart sort of node, and we would be interested in that." Such a programme is not yet funded or contained within Australia's annual defence capability plan, he says.

The RAAF is rolling out Link 16 as part an upgrade to its Boeing F/A-18A/Bs, which are also being fitted with MIDS-LVT terminals, and the datalink standard will equip its future 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets.

Shepherd says the air force is interested in pursuing further cargo modifications to its A330s. "There will be a growth path on MRTT and we would like to put a hardened floor and a cargo door on it."

Source: Flight International