Belgium will invest 258 million euros in an air-to-air refuelling plane to expand European defence capacity.
The investment will increase the number of European tanker planes to eight from seven and is part of a 2012 project to improve Europe’s capacity in this regard. The planes remain the property of NATO. 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).
The eight tankers are acquired and operated according to the European principle of “pooling and sharing“, said the Minister of Defence, Steven Vandeput in a statement.
The project had chosen the Airbus A330-MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) plane, which apart from refuelling different kinds of fighter aircraft, such as the US F-35 Lightning II, French Rafale and European Eurofighter models, can also be used for transporting goods and passengers and for sanitary 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 refuelling missions of its F-16s or medical evacuation, according to Mr. Vandeput’s entourage.
In July 2016, The Netherlands and Luxembourg had decided to purchase such an A330-MRTT together, and it was mentioned at that time that Belgium and other NATO countries would join later. This is now done for Belgium.
Proven in combat, the A330-MRTT is equipped with an Airbus Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) and two underwater tube/basket refit booms. Both systems are used to refuel in flight all types of aircraft (combat or transport) in service in the West.
According to the Belgian Defence, this type of aircraft currently totals 56 firm orders by eight countries. It is in active service in Australia and at the Royal Air Force. France has ordered nine of them – out of a total need of twelve aircraft – with a first delivery scheduled for 2018. This model has also been selected by India and Qatar. It had even been a moment for the US, before the market was cancelled and reassigned to Boeing.
This is the first time that the Belgian Air Component has invested in this type of aircraft.