Royal Air Force MRTT visits South Africa


Military aviation enthusiasts in Cape Town and Pretoria last week had the opportunity of seeing a Royal Air Force (RAF) Voyager (Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport) aircraft. Airbus Defence and Space officials are promoting the type to the South African Air Force to meet potential VIP, transport and tanker needs.

The aircraft, flying from Ascension Island, brought the RAF Queens Colours Squadron and the RAF Salon Orchestra to South Africa on a goodwill visit that saw the military musicians perform at Claremont in Cape Town and at Smuts House in Irene, Centurion.

The MRTT landed at Cape Town International Airport on 26 October and a day later took off for AFB Waterkloof in Centurion. Activities by the Royal Air Force contingent took place from 27 to 31 October and included musical performances and a demonstration of precision drill marching by the Queen’s Colour Squadron. Members of the Squadron and Orchestra performed at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain celebrations at the Castle in Cape Town on 27 October. They then proceeded to Pretoria on Friday.

As far as can be ascertained this is the first time one of these RAF multi-role aircraft has been in South Africa.

The Royal Air Force has access to 14 MRTTs through the Airtanker consortium, which provides a capability to the RAF.

Airbus is promoting the MRTT to the South African Air Force (SAAF) to meet a number of potential requirements. Eduardo Pellicer, A330 MRTT Marketing Manager, told defenceWeb that the South African Air Force has requested information on the MRTT. The SAAF is known to be seeking VIP transport aircraft and the MRTT can be fitted out in this configuration without losing its cargo or refuelling capabilities – Spain, the United Kingdom and Australia have requested more information on this variant.

Airbus believes that in light of South Africa’s external commitments on the continent, the A330 MRTT makes a lot of sense as it is the only way the SAAF could deploy its Gripen fighters over long distances. When the SAAF attempted to provide air support during the Battle of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) in March 2013, the four Gripens had to make refuelling stops along the way, slowing their progress.

Pellicer said that there are synergies with South African Airways’ fleet of six A330-200s, which would result in reduced support, maintenance, training and logistics costs should the SAAF acquire the type. The MRTT shares 80% commonality with the A330, with some of the differences being new avionics including GPS, IFF, a different flight management system, electronic countermeasures, ability to carry military pallets, and the aerial refuelling system.

If the aircraft are not needed militarily, they could always be leased on a commercial basis. For instance the Royal Air Force’s MRTTs are operated by the Airtanker consortium. Of the 14 aircraft for the RAF, nine will be kept in military configuration but the remaining five are leased commercially when not needed, such as to Thomas Cooke. Military equipment is removed before this process takes place.

The MRTT can carry 111 tons of fuel and refuel aircraft through either hose and drogue pods or a boom. As all fuel is carried in the wings, the fuselage is free to carry 45 tons of cargo or 300 troops or 130 stretchers over 4 500 nautical miles. Range is 7 741 kilometres with 40 tons of payload; 9 445 km with 30 tons of payload or 11 149 km with 20 tons; while ferry range is 14 800 nautical miles.

At the moment there are some two dozen MRTTs in operation, namely five with the Royal Australian Air Force, six with the Royal Saudi Air Force, three with the United Arab Emirates and 12 with the Royal Air Force/Airtanker. The fleet has accumulated more than 56 000 flight hours since service entry in 2011.

The MRTT is combat proven, being used by Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates in support of anti-Islamic State operations in the Middle East.

Seven nations have chosen to use the aircraft, namely Australia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, UAE, Singapore, France and South Korea.

In addition to secure orders, the MRTT has also been selected by India, Qatar, Spain and the European Defence Agency, which is promoting multinational programme with the Netherlands, Norway and Poland, which would acquire three to eight aircraft.

Antonio Rodriguez Barberan Head of Sales, Military Aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space, said that Airbus should announce a repeat order soon. He hopes the MRTT will capture 75% of the global air tanker market. Airbus expects to sell 25 MRTTs in Africa and the Middle East. The type has been evaluated by Algeria.