I have covered the Future Strategic Tanker programme several times (the main one being here) on Think Defence including the oft held assertion that Air Tanker have some sort of monopoly on air to air refueling for the UK that would prevent anything other than the A330 Voyagers providing fuel offload for UK aircraft.

The generally held opinion seems to verge between ambiguous and uncertain.

A recent Parliamentary Answer confirmed that the RAF ‘has no requirements’ for the A400M to be used in the AAR role but is that because there are genuinely no requirements or because of commercial issues surrounding the 27 year FSTA PFI?

Given the obvious benefits of utilising the A400M in the AAR role, the potential for increased flexibility in locations such as the Falkland Islands and the ability to hugely increase the versatility of the Chinook and Merlin helicopter force I suspect most people would suspect the reason would have to be a very good one.

A recent FOI request might throw some light on things.

Dear Mr ###,

Thank you for your festive wishes in your E-Mail dated 25 December 2012 and I note your request that your latest supplemental questions be answered by e-mail. In previous correspondence, you asked a number of questions regarding “the agreement” (the PFI contract) between MOD and AirTanker in relation to Air to Air Refuelling (AAR). Below I reproduce your original questions and the previously provided answers, followed by your supplemental questions with associated answers:

Question 1

Is there any part of the agreement that would limit, restrict or financially penalise the MoD should it wish to;

a) Use another nations aircraft for the purpose of airborne refuelling MoD owned or operated fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft during training or operations

b) Use another commercial provider of airborne refuelling services for the purpose of airborne refuelling MoD owned or operated fixed wing or rotary aircraft during training or operations

c) Use another MoD owned aircraft for the purpose of airborne refuelling MoD owned or operated fixed wing or rotary aircraft during training or operations.

Answer:

The Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract contains provisions to ensure that AirTanker has first call on all requirements for AAR for the RAF. The RAF is able to utilise AAR provided by other Nations, by commercial providers or another MOD owned aircraft but may have to make contractual payments to AirTanker if it does so.[/su_note]

Question 1 – Supplemental:

“I fully understand that the MoD will need to make payments to AirTanker if it decides to use other aircraft for either transport or AAR. Your response uses the words ‘may have to make contractual payments’ which implies some decision matrix will be used or other determinant of ‘may’ It is this decision matrix or the conditions under which payments will be made, that I am trying to understand. Fully appreciate that the amounts of these payments would be subject to commercial confidentiality”.

Answer:

There is no formal decision matrix for determining MOD liability for payments to AirTanker for AAR provided by other providers, including other Nations, commercial providers or another MOD owned aircraft. Liability for payment would be determined on a case by case basis. At the end of each financial year, AirTanker and the MOD would undertake a reconciliation process to account for the notional cost of RAF fuel offloads to foreign air forces. This would be used to offset MOD’s liability to AirTanker for receiving fuel from other providers.[/su_note]

Question 2:

“Does the MoD have any plans to utilise the A400 Atlas in the AAR role” and “Will the RAF’s A400 Atlas aircraft have the provision for fitting AAR pods should the MoD wish to implement this capability”.

Answers

There are currently no plans to utilise the A400M Atlas in the AAR role.

The A400M Atlas is designed such that it can be configured for the AAR role by addition of pods and associated internal provisions. Additional certification and qualification would be required, along with training activity to enable the capability to be utilised.[/su_note]

Question 2 – Supplemental

“Under the current terms of the FSTA PFI agreement with AirTanker what would be the commercial implications to the MoD (in respect of the PFI only) of bringing the A400M Atlas AAR capability into service”

Answer:

If the MoD chose to introduce another AAR capability, the MoD would probably be required to pay a charge to Air Tanker each time it were used (subject to the aforementioned liability process), or both parties could elect to enter into negotiations to achieve a more favourable contractual outcome.[/su_note]

So does that mean what I think it means or does ‘probably required to pay a charge’ just adds to the uncertainty.

Perhaps the FOI request should have been for the contract documentation but that would probably have been refused on commercial grounds.

Interesting though