Preparations for the Multinational Multirole Tanker and Transport Fleet (MMF), aimed to increase Air-to-Air Refuelling capabilities in Europe, reached a significant milestone today when the first Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft was delivered to the fleet’s main operating base in Eindhoven.
In total, the fleet could count up to 11 Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft of which eight have already been procured. While the first of them (MMF1) has now been delivered, the consecutive aircraft (2 to 8) will be delivered in the coming years: a brand new MRTT will be delivered roughly every six months to either Eindhoven (The Netherlands) as the ‘Main Operating Base’ or to Cologne (Germany) as the ‘Forward Operating Base Plus’.
Six participating countries so far
The MMF, managed by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) with strong support of the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) under the ownership of NATO and operated by an international unit, will provide its six participating Member States (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands) with strategic tanker and transport capabilities.
Based on a pooling and sharing concept, the participating countries will have access to a total of 8 (and in the future perhaps to 11) Airbus A-330 MRTT aircraft which can provide strategic transport (pax and cargo), air-to-air refuelling and medical evacuation capabilities.
Example of excellent EU/NATO cooperation
The multinational fleet builds on the excellent cooperation between NATO and EU Member States and Agencies since the very beginning of the project. Back in 2011, the European Defence Agency started an initiative to address the long-standing European shortfall in the air-to-air refuelling capacity. Since then, this initiative has grown into a mature programme handed over to and managed by the NSPA on behalf of the participating countries and supported by OCCAR for the acquisition phase.
The MMF programme stands as an example on how European countries can cooperate, pooling and sharing resources to get access to state of the art capabilities that would be difficult or impossible to access individually. All the countries involved, independently of their size and the number of flying hours, have access to the MMF capabilities.
EDA’s Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý said: “The Multinational Multirole Tanker and Transport Fleet is a prime example of European defence cooperation done in close coordination with NATO, which shows that once a capability shortfall has been jointly identified, European nations can pull together, work on a common project aimed at filling the gap, and eventually deliver – as they do with today’s delivery of the first aircraft. It’s Pooling & Sharing at its best. The European Defence Agency stands ready to assist additional Member States which are in need of AAR capabilities to explore their potential participation in this important project”.
NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Investment, Camille Grand, said: “The MRTT fleet’s versatility in providing several critical capabilities simultaneously is nothing short of impressive. The aircraft can help respond to crises such as the COVID-19 emergency, by moving medical supplies and conducting medical evacuations. However, the fleet will probably have the most profound impact within the air-to-air refuelling mission, an area where historically many European Allies have lacked capacity. Therefore, the MRTT fleet will help contribute to a fairer transatlantic burden-sharing at NATO. It is also a successful pilot multilateral cooperation project, bringing together a number of Allies and multiple NATO and EU institutions and agencies in support of the delivery of a major capability”.
The Netherlands and Luxembourg initially launched the programme in July 2016, with the first one as the lead nation of the project. Germany and Norway joined in 2017, Belgium followed in early 2018 and Czech Republic lastly joined the MMF programme in October 2019.
The MMF aircraft will be operated by the Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport Unit (MMU) comprising of military personnel of the participating countries. The unit is based in two permanent operating bases, the Main Operating Base in Eindhoven and the Forward Operating Base in Cologne-Wahn. Among the eight MMF aircraft, five will be based in Eindhoven, and three in Cologne.