Is an EU Airborne Refuelling Pool on the Horizon


The UK is continuing with Future strategic Aircraft Tanker (FSTA) programme that is being fulfilled as a PFI contract with Airtanker, a consortium consisting of Cobham, EADS, Rolls-Royce, Thales UK and VT Group. Over 27 years the company will provide the RAF with airborne refuelling and strategic transport for personnel and cargo.

Although it is widely acknowledged that the PFI concept has not provided the cost savings predicted it retains attractiveness because it spreads out payment profiles, avoids capital costs and allows capability to be paid for off balance sheet.

It remains to be seen what the next government will do with the PFI concept, certainly the MoD is the most enthusiastic proponent but one thing is certain, there is going to be increasing pressure on the defence budget as MoD PFI’s start kicking in.

European nations also have similar requirements and pressures, certainly in the AAR space, of the 21 European Defence Agency nations, 18 have a requirement for AAR but only 9 have the aircraft to do so.

Could the two be about to converge?

In 2005 the EDA proposed a PFI solution but it did not receive any interest but it seems the time is right for another look as it would seem the proposal is being aired again during a forthcoming conference. During the forthcoming Air Tankers and Aerial Refuelling conference in London on 25 January one of the agenda items is ‘Understand what Commercial Tanker services can be utilised to provide AAR capability’

The Commercial AAR Interim Solution (CAARIS) project will be proposed to address these needs.

European nations already operate a joint capability in the form of The NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force (NAEW&CF) which was established in January 1980 and consists of 2 elements, the RAF’s E3D 8 Squadron and a multi nation force of 17 E3A’s and 3 trainer cargo aircraft. Although not a PFI it was a joint NATO purchase and is operated by 14 participating NATO nations including the USA.

Could the FSTA PFI be extended to include EDA nations as a means of reducing the cost to the MoD or some other link between FSTA and CAARIS created?

Remains to be seen but something to watch for.

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