A joint EDA-NATO Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) Conference, the first of its kind in this format, was opened this morning by the Dutch Minister of Defence, Ank Bijleveld (who spoke via video message), NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Defence Investment, Camille Grand, and EDA Chief Executive Jorge Domecq. It followed a successful first European AAR conference organised by EDA last year.
The event, moderated by the Chairman of the Aerial Refuelling Systems Advisory Group (ARSAG), General John Sams, brought together key decision-makers from the EU and NATO as well as the wider transatlantic and international AAR community, including industry, to discuss current and future challenges and coordinate efforts in this important domain. Among the high-level speakers of the conference were notably Major General Laurent Marboeuf, the commander of the European Air Transport Command (EATC), Major General Jose Maria Juanas from the Spanish Air Force, Colonel Juergen Wallwei from the German Military Aviation Authority and Dave Benson from the US Air Force Aerial Refueling Certification Agency (ARCA).
A special focus was put on ways and means to enhance euro-atlantic AAR interoperability. Throughout the day, the topic was presented, discussed and analysed in various sessions dealing with different aspects, from the optimisation of existing capabilities and the development of new capabilities to the operational and industrial implications of it.
In his opening speech, Jorge Domecq praised the good cooperation between EDA, NATO and ARSAG in such crucial a domain than air-to-air refuelling. “This is yet another testimony of pragmatic cooperation, to ensure complementarity of efforts and avoid unnecessary duplications, as called for by the EU-NATO Joint Declaration”, Mr Domecq said.
Over recent years, important progress has been made in order to mitigate the important capability gap Europe still has in the field of AAR (establishment of a Multinational MRTT Fleet, AAR exercises organised by the European Air Transport Command, gradual entrance into service of the A440M, successful clearance campaigns between A400M tankers and various receivers, etc.), “but it is not sufficient”, the EDA Chief Executive stressed: “What we really need is to ensure that the AAR shortfall, like capability gaps in other areas, is addressed in a more systematic way”. Therefore, the fact that AAR was reconfirmed as one of the EU Capability Development Priorities (it is embedded in the wider Air Superiority priority) which were approved by EU Member States in 2018, in full complementarity with NATO’s NDPP, will enable the continuation of this effort. Work is now underway to implement the priorities, including the AAR related one, through Strategic Context Cases (SCCs).
Challenges in the short, medium and long term
“In the short-term, the main challenge is to optimise the use of the existing AAR assets available in Europe, and we can do that through, for example, increased participation in annual European AAR Training (EART). But we can also increase interoperability by increasing AAR clearances - because a tanker without a clearance is not a tanker”, said Mr Domecq who also stressed that the certification of AAR is clearly an airworthiness aspect. In this respect, he welcomed that airworthiness authorities in the AAR field now realise and agree on the fact that “the technical assessment of an AAR clearance is their responsibility”. In the medium-term, the challenge is to cover the peak demand in AAR during the initial phase of an operation or conflict when air superiority is not yet assured, for instance by expanding the MMF fleet. “EDA stands ready to assist interested Member States in the process to explore their potential participation in this important project”, Mr Domecq said. And finally, in the longer term, the challenge is to close the remaining capability gap, both in strategic and tactical AAR, including by developing automated/autonomous air to air refuelling systems (A3R) as a useful complement to manned AAR capabilities. “It is evident that the future of AAR will be automated”.
EDA will organise a workshop on 28 January 2020 to bring together Member States and industry to discuss the way ahead on this topic.