by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the ceremony marking the initial operational capability of the new multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft fleet
Ladies and Gentlemen.
It’s a really great honour to be here today, and a pleasure to be at the Eindhoven Air Base, and I welcome of course the announcement that this multinational fleet of tanker transport aircraft is now ready for a full range of missions and operations - important for our security, important for what we do together.
These aircraft will provide us with world-class air-to-air refuelling, air transport and air medical evacuation capabilities.
Tanker aircraft is the backbone of Allied air power. They can support NATO operations, enabling fighter aircraft to stay in the air much longer. And they can transport wounded or sick personnel from any country in the world.
One tanker aircraft can carry up to six intensive care units, helping to save lives. Most importantly, the fleet has already proven its value.
Since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, these tanker transport aircraft have helped to protect NATO’s eastern flank.
Last year alone, the fleet flew more than 500 missions, refuelling hundreds of NATO fighter jets that keep Allied airspace safe.
Outside of Europe, these aircraft have supported the evacuation of civilians and refugees from Afghanistan. They deployed to the Indo-Pacific for exercises with key NATO partners, including Australia. And later this year, they will deploy to the Middle East to support operations against ISIS. So they have demonstrated that they can actually fulfil many different tasks.
I want to thank the European Defence Agency, the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation and the NATO Support and Procurement Agency for working together to develop this state-of-the-art fleet. This is an excellent example of how NATO and the EU work together to deliver critical capabilities for our members - important for the EU, important for NATO but most of all, important for our shared security.
This initiative is also a concrete step towards reducing the shortfall in European air-to-air refuelling capacity. Multinational procurement is a cost-effective way for Allies to acquire essential military equipment. This also demonstrates that European Allies are stepping up for their defence and strengthening our shared security.
So I thank the Netherlands for hosting the base, I thank all the personnel who has made this possible, and I look forward to working together with all of you to ensure that we will continue to deliver this extremely important capability together. I hope, as the Minister, that we are also in the future to develop more initiatives like this in the coming years.
Thank you so much, and congratulations.