by NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Investment Camille Grand at the European AAR Refuelling Conference, EUROCONTROL Brussels

  • 17 Oct. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 22 Oct. 2019 11:06

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to welcome you all to this conference on Air-to-Air Refuelling, which is for the first time jointly organised by NATO and the EDA. It is a project dear to my heart and to that of my friend and colleague at EDA, Jorge Domecq. I am pleased that excellent cooperation between EDA and NATO, with the support of NATO Allies and EUMS, has allowed us to deliver this event.

I would like to start by thanking the Director General of EUROCONTROL, Mr Eamonn Brennan, for hosting the conference in the EUROCONTROL premises and the assistance of his staff with the organisation of this event.

Both NATO and the European Union work closely with EUROCONTROL on the management of airspace within Europe, which for NATO is essential for the ability to train and operate.

This close civil-military coordination and liaison is essential for the delivery of Rapid Air Mobility (RAM) for which Air-to-Air Refuelling is a key enabler.

We are currently going through the final stages of the implementation of the RAM capability in European airspace, which will reach Full Operational Capability from 1 January 2020.

None of this would have been be possible without the close cooperation of our friends and colleagues in EUROCONTROL and a mutual understanding of the needs and requirements of both the military and civil aviation communities.

I would also like to thank Lieutenant General John Sams, the Chair of the Aerial Refuelling Systems Advisory Group who is our moderator for today and who so skilfully steered the programme of last year's conference with his words of wisdom and gentle reminders to stay on time.

We look forward to Gen Sams' interjections and thoughts from the global perspective as we progress through the today.

…and so to the Conference itself.

It was unfortunate that Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld was unable to join us in person today, but none-the-less I would like to thank her and the Netherlands for their leadership in moving forward the Air-to-Air Refuelling capability in Europe through the Multi-National MRTT Fleet (MMF) project and in promoting all projects related to military mobility.

The engagement, along with that of other Allies and EU Member States, is testimony to the importance that this capability has for both NATO and the EU.

It is clear that both NATO and the EU exist in the same security environment where we share the same values and interests, but we also face the same challenges.

As we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of NATO's foundation, our mission to ensure peace on the European continent is as significant today as it was in 1949, and the cooperation between NATO and the EU remains all the more necessary.

Since the signature of the NATO-EU Joint Declaration in Warsaw in 2016, NATO-EU cooperation has come a long way. In NATO, as the Secretary General regularly highlights, we are firm believers in a stronger European Defence.

This brings more investment in Defence, more European capabilities, a fairer sharing of the transatlantic burden, and as a result, a stronger NATO.

There is no doubt that in the area of Air-to-Air Refuelling NATO-EU cooperation is a clear success story and an excellent example and flagship of NATO-EU cooperation However, this does not mean that this is an easy process. Air-to-Air Refuelling has been a topic of common interest for NATO and the EU from well before the signature of the Warsaw Declaration, and the subsequent agreement of 74 common proposals for cooperation.

Air-to-Air Refuelling shows that when NATO and EU follow a pragmatic approach we can deliver. When we want to work together, we can.

This conference is a clear example of pragmatism by both organisations for a common benefit.

Delivery of the aircraft for the Multi-National MRTT Fleet (MMF) is due to commence in May 2020, which is just 8 years from the start of project.

We should therefore pause to consider and acknowledge that this is a remarkable achievement.

Jorge Domecq joined me at the Conference of National Armaments Directors in NATO HQ last week where during the session with Partners we discussed Multi-National projects and areas for collaboration.

The Multi-National MRTT Fleet (MMF) was highlighted several times as a success story and an example of multi-national cooperation, both from the perspective of the participating nations, but also the organisations that helped enable and manage the project.

The cooperation between OCCAR and NSPA has been instrumental in the procurement of the fleet, which will continue to be managed through life by NSPA. I also highlight the key role of European Air Transport Command and I look forward to their continued close engagement.

However, despite this success both NATO and the EDA have identified that there remains approximately a 30% shortfall in capacity – Jorge will, I am sure, also re-iterate this point. So how do we address this Shortfall?

I am sure buying more aircraft would keep industry very happy but we first have to ensure we are making best use of what we already have:

For example:

  • Would increasing the numbers of crews per aircraft improve the utility of existing platforms – that is a challenge in itself given the pull for aircrew from civil airlines.
  • Could we make better use of existing platforms such as the A400M?
    • Either through nations buying more equipment or a multi-national project to Pool & Share.
    • Increasing the number of Wing Pod kits would allow more of the total fleet to be available to address the AAR shortfall.
  • Taking a different stance, do we need to re-consider the use of commercial providers for non-operational missions such as training and deployments?
    • The US Navy has used commercial AAR services for 15 years and is in the process of reviewing its requirements;
    • US Transcom is now also seeking commercial AAR services.

One of the key issues that has been the focus of the tri-organisation Global AAR Strategy Team for the past 4 years has been AAR Clearances.

The issue is that although tankers and receivers are certified for AAR operations they are not certified as a pairing. This is particularly important in coalition operations where tanker of one nation needs to be able to refuel receivers from other nations in the same mission.

The Lessons Identified from Operation Unified Protector identified this aspect, which when coupled with the lack of capacity amongst European Allies, had a significant impact on the operational effectiveness of combat air.

This led directly to what became known as the EDA AAR Initiative. One of the results of which is the Multi-National MRTT Fleet (MMF).

A key recommendation from the recent workshop in Poggio Renatico in September, which involved SMEs from National Military Airworthiness authorities, is that the pairing of an AAR tanker and an AAR receiver is an airworthiness issue.

On the basis of this recommendation we will be seeking the agreement of the Directors of national military airworthiness authorities at the Aviation Committee Plenary in NATO HQ in November that the Technical aspects of an AAR Clearance for a pairing is an airworthiness issue.

The Chairman of the NATO AAR WG will brief this in more detail later this morning, and then just before lunch there will be a brief from AIRCOM on the importance of getting this right, and the impact on operational effectiveness if we don't.

May I wish you all a successful and productive Conference on this important capability, which is a key enabler and force multiplier.