The Air Force took delivery of an Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) in-flight refueling aircraft, Monday, in a move to increase the tactical flight time for its fighter jets.
The A330 MRTT, which can carry up to 111 tons of fuel, is a military version of the civilian A330 airplane. The Air Force plans to conduct a month-long inspection of its first in-flight refueling aircraft at its base in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, after which the plane will go into service if its performance is accepted.
It plans to introduce three more MRTTs by the end of next year, seeking to fully use the aircraft in its multi-purpose role, such as by transporting troops and cargo.
The Air Force has a budget of 1.5 trillion won ($1.32 billion) for the four aircraft.
The MRTT will be mainly used to refuel the Air Force's F-15K and KF-16 fighters, and the 40 F-35A stealth fighters that are set to be delivered to Korea by the end of 2021.
For example, the F-15K fighter jet can stay in the air for 90 minutes through aerial refueling. As of now, the aircraft can only carry out 30-minute missions without aerial refueling.
"The introduction of the A330 MRTT allows the Air Force to conduct aerial missions in a much more efficient way," a military official said. "The primary role of the MRTT is to enhance the nation's defense readiness in the air and give fighter jets more loiter time when performing missions," he added
"On top of that, the MRTT is a versatile aircraft. The Air Force plans to use them when carrying out relief and disaster rescue activities."
The Air Force said it has yet to draw up a specific plan over how to use them during its annual exercises.
The military official said the Air Force has finished pre-training pilots for the MRTT, but still requires more time to complete management procedures for the planes, crew and engineers.
The MRTT is 59 meters in length with a wingspan of 50 meters.
Its introduction comes at a time when relations between Seoul and Pyongyang are improving. When it was first decided to introduce the aircraft in 2015, Pyongyang criticized the move, calling the decision a "war crime."