The conference discussed the current state of play (notably Europe’s shortfall in this domain) as well as the future opportunities and challenges of AAR from a European, transatlantic and international perspective.

In successive sessions and panels, the political, operational and regulatory aspects and problems were analysed and possible solutions discussed. The event opened with speeches and presentations by the then Belgian Minister of Defence, Steven Vandeput, the Assistant Secretary General for NATO Defence investments, Camille Grand, the chairman of the Aerial Refueling Systems Advisory Group (ARSAG), General John Sams, as well as the EDA Chief Executive, Jorge Domecq. The conference then continued with high-level panel discussions and debates. 

Example for close EU-NATO cooperation

In his speech, Mr Domecq praised AAR as a domain in which Europe is catching up on its shortfall in full complementarity with NATO. Even though Europe is still heavily dependent on US AAR assets, “it is slowly but surely catching up thanks to national and multinational air-to-air refuelling initiatives which aim to develop a future capability that meets our operational requirements”, Mr Domecq said. 

The aim is not to duplicate NATO’s efforts but for Europe to be able to act and to become credible partners, he stressed. “I very much welcome our NATO partners to this conference. The work we do together in AAR is exemplary for how we promote close EU-NATO cooperation. The joint political commitment complemented by the excellent staff-to-staff cooperation has led to a synchronised and harmonised approach towards dealing with the AAR shortfall, both on the NATO and EU side”. EDA’s AAR activities are fully synchronised with NATO’s roadmap for AAR improvements. “This prevents unnecessary duplication but more importantly creates opportunities for further collaboration (...) By increasing the European AAR capability, the participating nations also strive to meet their NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) targets”, Mr Domecq stated. “The Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) is a perfect example of how to get from this shortfall to a capability”. 

Way ahead 

Conference participants widely agreed that considerable work still lies ahead as Europe’s remaining 30% AAR shortfall, especially during operations, cannot be fixed overnight. Discussions pointed towards a variety of complementary steps that should be taken to fill the gap in the coming years, in particular, to:

●promote and further expand the MMF beyond the five current participating countries (Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Norway and Belgium). To date, the fleet has ordered eight A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, the delivery of which is expected between 2020 and 2022. There are currently three options for additional aircraft in place (a potential increase to eleven aircraft in total);

● encourage European countries with national AAR programmes in place to procure more assets, especially MRTT aircraft;

● increase the procurement of A-400M wing pods to be pooled and shared;

● improve the standardisation and streamlining of the international tanker clearance process.