Improvements heading KC-30A towards FOC

The business end of an RAAF KC-30A. (Airbus Military)

Airbus Military is confident its work with the RAAF will lead to initial operating capability of the KC-30A’s refueling boom in 2014, adding that final operating capability for probe and drogue refueling was expected in the new year.

Senior representatives from Airbus Military were in Australia recently to discuss progress on the boom and other issues that emerged in the early stages of the aircraft’s introduction to service over the last two years.

“We are all learning from operational experience,” said Airbus MRTT program head Antonio Caramazana.

Two RAAF KC-30As are currently in Madrid for crew training following modifications as a result of the co-operative efforts between the RAAF and Airbus Military, the manufacturer said.

Airbus Military also said that wingtip flutter that was experienced once during a refueling exercise between the KC-30A and F/A-18s was the result of turbulence and was a unique event. It further said oscillations in the wingtip from its super critical design had been remedied.



  1. John N says

    Let’s all hope they have resolved the boom issues this time around and that IOC, and eventually FOC, can be achieved sooner rather than later.

    For the RAAF, by the mid 2020’s, the pendulum will have swung quiet significantly in the direction of ‘boom only’ refuelling for 91 aircraft in its fleet (72 F35A’s, 6 E7A’s, 8 P8A’s and of course the 5 KC30A’s too), and let’s not forget that possibly by the early 2030’s another 28 F35A’s may be added to that total if they are ordered as the ‘4th’ Sqn to replace the Super Hornets.

    On some other A330 MRTT news I’ve just read today, Airbus Military is about to put final bids in front of France for 12-14 aircraft, and Singapore for 6 aircraft, the French aircraft may also be fitted with a cargo door on the upper deck too.

    In the report, Airbus Military also hinted at the possibility of ‘repeat’ sales to both Saudia Arabia and Australia.

    If I remember correctly apart from the 5 KC30A’s ordered for the RAAF there was an option for up to another three, which wasn’t exercised, maybe it’s time to start thinking about and planning for an increase to the size of the fleet.

    As I’ve said before, yes the KC30A’s are a quantum leap in capability over the B707 tankers, but 5 is still not much more than a training capability, to be truly effective the RAAF needs at least another 3-5 airframes.


    John N

  2. pez says

    I could see a case for 5 more KC-30s; 2 fitted for refueling (but pods not carried) for use as VIP, and 3 as dedicated freighter/refuelers. An active tanking fleet of 8 (5 pax + 3 cargo) and a total fleet of 10 (2 VIP) (minus maintenance of course).

    That’s a lot of tanking capacity, but if A330s are purchased for VIP use, then it would be amazingly short sighted not to fit them out as tankers too.

  3. John N says


    Interesting you bring up VIP, from memory the lease on the 2 BBJ’s is up in the next couple of years, and I do remember at the time of the order of the KC30A’s there was also talk of being able to to reconfigure the main deck on the KC30A’s for mixed VIP and economy seating due to limitations with the BBJ’s on long distances when carrying both the VIP’s and the media.

    Regardless of that, if any more aircraft were ordered the main thing, regardless of their ‘daily’ use as VIP or tanker/transports, or if they actually carry underwing pods or booms, is that they would all need to have the necessary modifications done to allow for quick conversion either way.

    Sure underwing pods, and possibly the boom, may not need to be fitted at all times, but the boom operator’s station and all the necessary plumbing and wiring modifications would need to be in place, or it would be a waste of time.

    If further airframes were ordered with the main deck cargo door, this modification would truly turn them into ‘multi role’ aircraft, the main deck could be all economy, mixed economy/VIP or all cargo or a mixture of passenger and cargo.

    Anyway, until the Government actually does something it unfortunately just remains a good idea, and an unfunded idea too!



  4. BH says

    @ Pez & John… I remember not too long ago just after the A330 cargo conversion was floated by Airbus, the idea of converting the already ordered KC30s was quickly raised between observers and RAAF brass. The RAAF were cautious with their response by saying that although the upper deck cargo capability would be handy, it should be remembered that these aircraft were purchased as tankers and that they didn’t want them spending more if their time lugging cargo and loosing sight of their primary mission. They went on to say that the RAAF has specialised transports in the C130 & C17 and the KC30s should only be seen as a secondary transport option.
    To some extent I’d say that this response shows that the RAAF have fought long and hard to get good & capable tanker replacement for the 707 and that they don’t want to loose it.

  5. pez says

    Hey BH,

    absolutely agree, that’s why I’d rather see extra aircraft in the cargo role, not convert the current ones. Plus, the down-time of taking the current fleet out of service (even just one at a time) for an extended period for the conversion seems like a bad idea.

    John N, you’ve hit the nail on the head though; unfunded. The issue of VIP aircraft is always a touchy subject with the public, however, I can see 2 aircraft that can double as tankers as being much more palatable for the (including us) tax-payers.

  6. John N says

    BH & Pez,

    Yes at the time the main deck cargo door option was floated by Airbus the RAAF was already far enough down the track with the KC30A’s, in its current configuration, that obviously it wouldn’t have wanted even more delays by adding a main deck cargo door to an already complex enough conversion process that would have seen even further delays.

    But, what I am suggesting, (that is if the money was ever available to enlarge the fleet), that we order additional airframes with the main deck cargo door built into them when they are under their initial factory construction, eg, ‘before’ the MRTT conversion process.

    Having a main deck cargo door on extra new build airframes doesn’t take away from their ability to be to be used for tanking, passenger and cargo transport, it enhances it and just make them more flexible in the MRTT role.

    As far as converting the existing fleet, yes, that should only be considered once the pool of airframes was large enough, at the end of the day a main deck cargo door is not a necessity, but it would be nice ‘bonus’ to have.

    The main thing is that any additional aircraft should have, regardless of if they actually carry the boom and underwing pods at all times or not, is that they have had all of the other necessary modifications completed.

    If you look how the UK is going to operate its fleet of 14 airframes, not all will be in RAF Sqn service, some will be leased out for commercial use, but because they have already been converted they can be brought back into Sqn service when needed.

    I’m not suggesting that we have to follow the UK example, but it does show that these aircraft are flexible enough to be used for multiple roles and when required, be included back in the fleet for military use.

    Anyway, food for thought!


    John N

  7. Darren says

    Multi Role Tanker Transport. That is what a KC-30 is supposed to be. It would be ideal to have more KC-30’s in the role of VIP, Transports with main deck cargo/passenger and tanking. The above mentioned 10 would be great. However I wonder as to the practicality of a VIP jet with its communications and political availabilitiy requirements being of any real use as part of the tanking fleet. I remember the RAAF stating that they did not want to be a lead customer on a Cargo Door for the A330. This might have meant paying for development costs or accepting the risk as a first customer. So far I think the RAAF is makling good use out of the jets to the MEO. Again the budget influences numbers. I think all agree more would be great, even neccessary, but you need money to buy them and operate them

  8. John N says


    You are 100% correct that you need money to buy them as we have all agreed on, its a great idea, but at this stage, an unfunded idea.

    I don’t really understand the concern about possible extra airframes being also used for VIP purposes, in fact, if I remember correctly, a number of months ago I saw TV footage of Gillard stepping off one of the current KC30A’s on an overseas trip.

    The main deck of a KC30A, being based on the A330, can be configured in any way that a commercially operated A330 can be, all economy or mixed VIP/First Class and Economy, how the main deck is configured doesn’t take away from the aircraft’s ability to also be a tanker when needed in that role.

    In the near future the lease on the 2 BBJ’s is up and the options could be:

    * Renew the lease
    * Replace with 2 new BBJ type aircraft, Boeing or Airbus, or
    * To save money, not replace them at all, and utilise the existing KC30A’s for long distance VIP flights

    The last option is certainly not what I would want to see, but a ‘win / win’ option could be, don’t spend money on the BBJ replacements and instead put it towards the acquisition of an additional 3 KC30A’s, and yes of course it would require more money than is just being saved on the BBJ’s.

    The advantage of what I’m suggesting, would give the RAAF a much larger pool of KC30A MRTT’s to call on very quickly when necessary, regardless of what an individual airframe might be tasked to do on a daily basis.

    In times of need, a VIP tasked airframe can easily, and more importantly, be quickly re-tasked for the tanking role.

    It would be far quicker and easier for the Government to lease a commercial aircraft for VIP transport in times of need than it would be to acquire additional tanker capacity.

    Is it a good idea? I think so, but with the current budget situation, probably very unlikely to happen.


    John N

  9. Peter says

    Hey John, sometimes I’m about to post a comment, and you get in before me to say exactly what I was about to !
    My understanding is that the VIP Fleet ( 34 Sqn ) aircraft, 2 BBJs and 3 Challengers, are leased through a Canadian company, with that lease expiring in 2014. The RAAF pay the same hourly rate for use, regardless of which aircraft is used, with Qantas Defence Services providing contract maintenance. I’ve heard the likelihood is that the lease will be extended on all 5 aircraft. The fact that for most of the time, these aircraft fit the requirements, and are purposely based in Canberra to be close to the end user – PM, GG, CDF, CAF etc. There’s no support there to base a VIP MRTT, and it would be under-utilised. However in saying that, I noticed on recent news footage that during a recent visit to China, initial footage showed the PM disembarking a BBJ, then later in the same trip but elsewhere in China, she was shown disembarking an MRTT. Also noticed her disembarking an MRTT at Townsville on ANZAC Day. So maybe there’s a case to upgrade the 34 SQN lease to replace 1 BBJ with a higher performance aircraft, and leave the MRTTs for refuelling, transport etc.
    Now here’s something out of left field. I remember reading an article in AA when we bought the initial 24 Super Hornets, that part of the purchase was the equipment to allow 4 to be fitted for buddy refueling. Enabling that skill set would address the common comment that we read about ” force multipliers”, especially with the Growlers on the way. 1 & 6 Sqn could become somewhat self sufficient.
    You are correct in remembering that the initial purchase of the MRTTs was for 5, with the option for another 3, way back before consideration of C-17s and P-8As, so 5 will never meet the requirements. A 6th was offered by Airbus as a new aircraft , and would have enabled the Brisbane fit-out facility to keep going at a time when South Korea and others in this area were considering this aircraft for their requirements. Airbus pushed this 6th aircraft with an incentive that they would make it attractive for Australia to perhaps provide the fit-out should other military customers eventuate in this region. Obviously, we didn’t proceed, so we lost continuity of a local high tech industry, and the advantage of that on-going facility in Brisbane, close to Amberley, for mid life upgrades from “the manufacturer”, plus export income from the Asian region. Smart country ? Local high tech employment ? Local industry spin-offs ? When’s the election ?

  10. John N says

    Hi Peter, sorry about beating you to the punch, next time hey?

    Yes you are correct that the Super Hornets have the capability for buddy tanking, which as you said too is a force multiplier for the Shornet / Growler Fleet.

    Certainly for the USN it means they can send tanker equipped Shornets up from a carrier to top up assets already in the air, but how effective that really is in Australian terms, eg, the limited fuel load a Shornet could carry combined with the distances needed to be travelled if a receiver aircraft is already out on station somewhere, is probably not quiet as significant as it is for the USN, but still it’s a handy capability to have.

    The main issue, as I see it, is that by the mid 2020’s 90+ aircraft in the RAAF fleet will be ‘boom’ only and possibly by the early 2030’s if the 4th Sqn of F35A’s are purchased, it will take the total of boom only aircraft close to 120.

    I just hope that sometime in the future extra money can be found to increase the KC30A fleet to the size it needs to be, which is probably somewhere between 8 and 10 airframes.

    And as far as missing out on that 6th airframe, yes that was disappointing too, if the conversion facility had continued we might have received extra work from Airbus Military for some of the conversion work for the possible/probable French, Singapore and possibly even Indian orders, and it could have meant that an additional buy for the RAAF could have been added too.

    Smart country? Yeah well…….


    John N

  11. John gates says

    Phew, A330 ,MRTT. for V.I.P’s. Well we have not learnt much from the past 6 years. At that time the then P.M. Kevin Rudd was hinted as saying an A330, what a great idea for thecurrent Australian P.M. It seemed to fit the aura for the great expectations we hoped we were going to play on the world, indeed any stage. Could you imagine the first bloke waving from an A330 door, OH! no and were is the normal idea and the sence in such a large aircraft carrying of all people ozzie Journos, hell, they would be more one sided than they are now. Perhaps a few more Challengers so our Defence Chiefs and senior Police can move around, all I hope, carried out with strict normal behaviour guidelines. . The BBJ’s look good for the tough times ahead. John Gates

  12. Darren says

    Maybe the time has come to seriously look at a leasing arrangement. The RAF will have some of its tankers out on lease to comercial operators at any given time. If upfront affordability is an issue a secure long term lease could be attractive to QANTAS or Virgin, who both opperate the type. Having them local and configured ready to be utilised in a crisis is a huge advantage. If use for the jets can be found (QANTAS Cargo?) to augement their regular service or cover maintenance it would further reduce the strain on the public purse. Ex RAAF could crew them as reserves should they leave the military, spending some time to keep their currency in AAR. You would need to flesh out the details, but with the budget the way it is new ways to solve problems need to be found, and the shortage of tankers is a problem. Australia is a vast country, sometimes a longway from anywhere we want to go, and is surrounded by lots of water. AAR goes a long way to countering that.

    As for VIP, well if the current jets do the job then that’s great, but if we are using a KC-30 for certain trips then that option needs to be explored. A VIP KC-30 for overseas trips works as when not in use it can be used for tanking. One of the issues relates to the media wanting to travel with the PM during elections and overseas trips. (Remember the accident in Indonesia a few years back where thet journalists were on a comercial flight that crashed?) So if we could keep the current VIP fleet for domestic use and get 1-2 EXTRA KC-30’s for occasional VIP use that works.

    Also the USN use Supers (who have extra aircraft – 12 supers per squadron to a classics 10) as this is now the only AAR asset they have on a carrier. Generally this jet orbits the carrier to top up fuel for an aircraft that needs a little more to get back, especially during blue water ops (ie no landbased divert available). It is a stop gap and into Iraq/Afghanistan they use USAF tankers.


  13. Cameron McCulloch says

    I’m sure i read an article somewhere (maybe AA??) that was saying at the end of the current lease for the BBJ’s they were going to look at a larger platform because the BBJ’s lack the required long legs (range) needed. To me the obvious choice would be new build A330’s configured specially for VIP work.

  14. Mick F says

    John N,
    Slapping an upper cago door does’t neccessarily mean it could be utilised as a large freighter, as it would require a new floor. The failed Airbus Mil/Northrop Grumman KC45 bid for the USAF replacement tanker was based on the A332F as opposed to the pax version that the MRTT is. You would be very limited as to what you could stash in their. Sure it would still be a lot, but that’s what the C17 is for. The A332F proposal had the upper door, strenghtened floor and lacked the pax windows. I would have liked to have seen underfloor tanks for offload, and upperfloor door and cargo, with palletised seating, ala KC10. However, at the time the A332F wasn’t in development, so we now have what could be seen as an uderutilized capability/capacity.


    Mick F

  15. pez says

    Mick F,

    I seem to recall an article back when the KC-45/A332F was being marketed to the US, an option was extra underfloor tanks with an additional 25+ tonnes of fuel. With it’s smaller SFC, it put it almost the same as the KC-10 of the range/offload graph. I also remember Airbus/EADS saying they’d keep this in mind for the KC-Y and KC-Z competitions.

    Although, with what’s happening with the US defence budget, I don’t know if the old 3-stage tanker replcement program is still the same.

  16. John N says

    Hi Mick,

    I agree, yes it’s not just as simple as slapping on a cargo door, the floor structure would have to be strengthened, which of course is time consuming and expensive if it was ever done to the exiting fleet.

    But it doesn’t mean that ‘if’ a follow on order of additional airframes was ever to happen it can’t be considered, especially if the ‘green’ airframes are built to that configuration on the factory floor prior to the MRTT conversion.

    Apparently the 12-14 airframes being offered to the French Air Force are being offered with the cargo door.

    Cargo door or not, I’d still like to see the KC30A fleet increased by at least 3 airframes, anyway, time and especially money will tell!


    Regarding the possible future KC-Y project, Airbus Military (in the same recent article I read about the French offering), also said that they would certainly put the A330 MRTT up as a candidate for that competition, the quote was ‘we will be there, we will play the match’.


    John N