Allies join multinational fleet of tanker-transport aircraft
NATO has taken another important step forward to improve its ability to refuel aircraft in mid-air, with three Allies looking to join a European programme to acquire new refuelling aircraft. Today (16 February 2017), Defence Ministers from Belgium, Germany, and Norway signed a Declaration of Intent to join a European multinational fleet of Airbus tankers, created by the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The two countries launched this initiative in July 2016 and a first order was made for two Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft, which are due to be delivered in 2020. The new agreement allows other Allies to join the programme with the provision to enlarge the fleet to up to eight aircraft.
At today’s signing ceremony, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller stressed that “this multinational cooperation through NATO is a clear way for countries to significantly improve their armed forces while ensuring the greatest value for money for their taxpayers.” She added that the new initiatives reduces Europe’s reliance on the United States for air-to-air refuelling capabilities.
Air-to-air tankers are vital in supporting NATO operations when other aircraft are on long-range missions. NATO’s air campaigns in Kosovo and Libya highlighted the need to increase European capabilities for inflight refuelling. The procurement programme is another example of the close cooperation between NATO and the European Union.