The Council of Ministers decided Friday (Dec. 22) to allocate 258 million euros to the Belgian participation in a fleet of European tankers, an amount that corresponds to the value of an aircraft Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport), the Ministry of Defense has announced.
The aircraft will be configured for in-flight refueling missions of all current and future fighter jets.
This Belgian decision will therefore increase from 7 to 8 aircraft the European fleet being prepared for the Multinational Multi Role Tanker Transport (MMF) program for the benefit of the European Union and NATO, and to compensate for one of the main shortcomings of European armies.
Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have already placed a firm order for seven Airbus A330-200 MRTTs, built by Airbus Defense and Space (ADS), a subsidiary of the European group Airbus.
The eight tankers are acquired and operated according to the European principle of "pooling and sharing", said the Minister of Defense, Steven Vandeput (N-VA), in a statement.
The MMF program will be funded by five countries, which will have exclusive exploitation rights for these NATO-owned aircraft, according to a pooling agreement.
The aircraft will be configured for in-flight refueling missions of all current and future fighter jets (US F-35 Lightning II, French Rafale and European Eurofighter), passenger and freight transport, and medical evacuation.
The delivery of the first seven aircraft is expected between 2020 and 2022, according to Airbus.
But Belgium should be able to resort quickly - before the delivery of the 8th aircraft, which should be operational by 2025, according to Mr Vandeput – to the A330 MRTT "pool" for missions to refuel its F-16 or for medical evacuation, according to Mr. Vandeput's entourage.
The MMF program was initiated by the European Defense Agency (EDA) in 2012. The European Organization for Co-operation in Armaments (OCCAR) manages the acquisition phase of the MMF as the executing agency of the contract for NSPA, a NATO agency. At the end of this phase, NSPA will be responsible for the complete management of the fleet life-cycle.
At least some of these aircraft will be registered in the Netherlands and based in Eindhoven (southern Netherlands) to replace the current KDC-10 tankers of the Dutch air force, with an advanced base in Cologne (Germany). Costs and personnel will be allocated according to the number of flying hours required by each country, under the supervision of the European Tactical Transport Command (EATC, based in Eindhoven),
The "strategic vision" for the Belgian army by 2030 endorsed in June 2016 by the Michel government plans to invest in such a device to the tune of 300 million euros in the period 2024-2027.
Proven in combat, the A330 MRTT is equipped with an Airbus Aerial Refueling Boom System (ARBS), and two underwater tube / basket refueling pods. Both systems are used to refuel in flight all types of aircraft (combat or transport) in service in the West.
According to the Defense, this type of aircraft totals 56 firm orders by eight countries. France has ordered nine copies - out of a total need expressed of twelve aircraft - with a first delivery scheduled for 2018. This model has also been selected by India and Qatar.