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.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
January 28, 2010 8:08 am

Its possible they will try, but I cant see how it will work.

The Joint AWACS has a single mission, provide AWACS over Europe and the North Sea (The Med?).

Our Tankers could be escorting a Typhoon Flight to a peaceful deployment in Cyprus, a peacekeeping deployment in Afghanistan, or a war in the Falklands.

Is France going to scrub supplying its forces under siege in East Africa because we need to get extra air frames to a possible war in the South Atlantic.

We all agree on what the joint awacs force should be doing at any one time, so a pooled force can work, we dont agree on what the tanker fleet should be doing.

January 28, 2010 3:31 pm

Oh no please no, this is a very bad idea in my opinion the writing is already on the wall for it not to work. One thing that has been forgotten it seems is the A400M is an ok tanker aircraft not great but ok around the same as some VC-10 marks from what I’ve been told so Europe has its tankers. Germany might still get 60 A400M and France 50 so they should have plenty of tactical tanking capacity when needed and France will no doubt replace its KC-135F with A330’s. Germany might replace its A310’s at some point in the future but that is a long way away as they are newish in service. The French and the Germans will no doubt be cooperating on future missions at least where possible they may even pool their 100 odd A400M’s together and may ask Spain etc to join the party. If we are invited we should decline as it would only invite stupidity from various sources and could end up not only an unmitigated disaster but a not even a remotely funny one at that.

As Dominic pointed out the RAF has differing requirements in where they would use them and when not to mention we use our tankers to move people around to places as diverse as the Falklands and Brunei. Can you imagine when we need to deploy a dozen aircraft to rapidly reinforce the Falklands Spain could object and I’ve no idea what the others would say the EU already has a noose round our neck or trying to at least let’s not help them along the politicians seem to be doing well enough? As an important point we simply need more tankers even just for RAF needs never mind sharing them with someone else. Oh and I mean strategically capable tankers like the A330’s not tactical tankers for moving a pair of fighters somewhere. The FSTA or Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft can anyone tell me what some are calling that including me for good reason?

January 28, 2010 5:21 pm

The only way I could see a solution like that working is if it were arranged differently, with the UK buying and owning a larger pool of A330’s then renting them out to our peace loving neighbours when they need them, provided we don’t. That means any spare capacity we have can be rented out so the aircraft don’t just sit around, but that we have enough airframes and under our direct control for when we do need them.

I’d rather we proposed that and used the money we could earn to buy out the current 14 airframes and expand numbers if necessary in the future. I can’t see it working for the UK any other way for the reasons that have been pointed out. But it would mean actually putting a little capital in to start so Airtanker doesn’t earn the money, the MoD does. I’d rather see the defence budget spike for one year than have it crippled for the next 25 years.