Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) is fundamental for effective air power projection and is required to sustain combat operations. AAR is a multidimensional domain, pilots can extend radius and flight time, thus allowing for more complex missions to be performed. While of paramount importance to European armed forces, AAR is strategic asset where Member States have faced significant capability shortfalls, highlighted by operations in Mali, Libya and Kosovo. Europe’s military tanker fleet is fragmented and currently stands at 42 tanker aircraft of 12 different types, compared to the 550 tankers of 4 types of the United States. 

Back in 2013, facing a critical shortfall of a strategic asset, AAR was designated by EU leaders as one of the four key programmes on which the European Defence Agency (EDA) and its Member States should work together to overcome. Since then, EDA has developed a three work strand ‘global approach’ to alleviate AAR shortfall through; optimization of existing capabilities, introduction of the A400M fleet AAR capability, and increasing the strategic taker capability in European by 2020 (MMF).

EART 2017: Putting existing assets to use

From March 26 to 7 April 2017, the 4th European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training (EART 2017) exercise took place at Eindhoven Airbase in the Netherlands. EART 2017 represents an important building block in the first process of optimizing existing capabilities. Four European nations (Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and France) took part in the exercise, organised by the European Air Transport Command (EATC). 

Introduced in 2014 following EDA’s AAR initiative, the EART concept is dedicated AAR training focused on maintaining proficiency and enhancing knowledge of multinational tanker aircraft. These exercises allow air crews, planners, taskers and engineers to plan and execute missions in a complex COMAO (composite air operation) environment. EART is an effective way for European forces to optimise the use of current tanker assets, while practising together increases standardisation and interoperability. Exercises are organised on a yearly basis and are pooled with the multinational Frisian Flag fighter exercise that operates from Leeuwarden Airbase. The overall results demonstrate the benefits of joint training for interoperability, while public interest in this domain grows.

EART 2017 in numbers

Pounds of fuel offloaded



Fying hours

Training days

Member State Aircraft

The Netherlands - KDC-10, 
Germany - A310 MRTT, 
Germany - A310 MRTT, 
France- C135, Italy - KC67 

Martin Konertz is EDA’s Capability, Armament and Technology Director

MMF: The way ahead for European AAR 

Optimization of current assets will only take European AAR capacity so far, ultimately current European tanker assets will be replaced by the next generation of tanker aircraft. In this context, the EDA is working on increasing the strategic taker capability in Europe by 2020 through the Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF).  Based on a pooled fleet of Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (A330 MRTT) aircraft, the MMF aims to increase the overall European tanker capability in 2020. To date, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and secured the contract for two A330s, while this year Ministers of Belgium, Germany and Norway signed a Declaration of Intent to sign this MoU soon. The MMF project has the clear potential to enhance European AAR capability as EDA’s new Capability, Armament and Technology (CAT) Director, Martin Konertz, explains: “The MMF project is simple in concept, let’s bring together interested Member States and help them to acquire together, to operate together, and to maintain together a European multinational fleet of Air-to-Air refuelling aircraft.  In a nutshell: to do together what is out of reach for most countries individually - notably for budgetary reasons.  It is a successful example of innovative and future-oriented cooperation between like-minded European countries - it is ‘Pooling & Sharing’ at its best. I believe the MMF can and should serve as a model and example for future similar cooperation in order to boost European defence capabilities in other domains.

EDA works to bring the benefits of joint European training and defence cooperation to the widest possible audience.  Our video from EART 2017 of a French fighter (Mirage 2000) refuelling from the Italian tanker (KC-767 A) has been viewed 20,000 times on-line! Check it out via the EDA twitter account or use #EART2017