RAAF’s KC-30A tanker transport achieves FOC

KC-30A A39-001 at Avalon. This aircraft ferried the RAAF’s F-35s across the Pacific late last month. (Seth Jaworski)

The Airbus KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) has achieved final operational capability (FOC) in Royal Australian Air Force service, Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies announced at the Avalon Airshow on Thursday.

“It is quickly becoming the tanker of choice,” Air Marshal Davies said of the KC-30A.

“We are now there where the aircraft has done so many receiver clearances that, having spoken to the Minister for Defence over the last couple of days, I would like to take this opportunity to declare final operational capability for the KC-30A MRTT in the Royal Australian Air Force,” AIRMSHL Davies told a media briefing.

“There has been a lot of hard work that has gone into its development, but … there is a lot more that this aircraft can do. Now that we have FOC we are able to go into that next smart phase [of developing the aircraft],” the Chief observed.

“This tanker has come a long way since its introduction, undertaking significant operational, test and evaluation activities with a range of coalition aircraft, including United States Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft. This was a vital test of the KC-30A, to ensure we are prepared for our future force, including our F-35A arriving in late 2018.”

Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne also noted the significance of the KC-30A achieving final operating capability in a statement on Thursday.

“This is a significant milestone for the fleet, which is now able to refuel a range of aircraft from our Air Force and our international partners,” Minister Payne said.

“The KC-30A has been an outstanding asset over Iraq on Operation Okra, having offloaded over 74 million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft, including Australia’s F/A-18A Hornet and E-7A Wedgetail aircraft. It is on the frontline, making sure the Hornets can take the fight to Daesh effectively.

“Just one KC-30A can support the deployment of four fighter aircraft over 5,000km, with 50 personnel and 12 tonnes of equipment. It is an extremely versatile aircraft that is suited to the long ranges of the Australian continent.”

The Avalon Airshow also saw the announcement of a research agreement between the RAAF and Airbus to further develop the KC-30A’s capabilities.

Airbus says the agreement will result in expanding upon the KC-30A’s core transport and refuelling capabilities to support the RAAF’s transformation into a fully-integrated force, capable of tackling complex contemporary defence and security challenges.

Airbus’s Fernando Alonso and Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies at the signing of a partnership arrangement on future development of the KC-30 MRTT. (Seth Jaworski)

“The KC-30A offers tremendous combat potential at the heart of the integrated Air Force of the future, including using the platform as a communication node, to maximise air power delivery,” Fernando Alonso, Head of Military Aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space said.

The agreement’s first milestone is the joint development of the automatic air-to-air refuelling (A3R) concept.

Automating boom refuelling contacts reduces potential risk by minimising operator workload, and increases operational efficiency by cutting the time for each contact. The system requires no additional equipment in the receiver aircraft, Airbus says.

CAF described the capability to undertake automatic air-to-air refuelling as “somewhat mind-boggling”.

The RAAF currently operates five KC-30As from Amberley. A sixth aircraft is due to be delivered in the third quarter of 2017 with a seventh to follow in late 2019.