“The two additional KC-30A aircraft will be delivered in 2018 and provide a substantial increase to the air-to-air refuelling capacity of the RAAF,” Andrews said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Defence has signed an update to the existing acquisition contract with Airbus Defence and Space for the two aircraft and associated conversion at a cost of approximately $408 million.”
The KC-30 (Airbus calls it the A330 MRTT – Multi Role Tanker Transport) is a development of the A330-200 airliner, featuring an ARBS (Advanced Refuelling Boom System) boom mounted beneath the rear fuselage and underwing mounted ‘probe and drogue’ pods. It also has a significant ‘air logistics support’ capability able to carry cargo in its underfloor freight compartments and, in RAAF service, 270 passengers in airliner-style seating.
Although four of the original five aircraft were converted from ‘green’ A330 airframes to their KC-30 configuration by Qantas Defence Services (now Northrop Grumman Australia Integrated Defence Services) at Brisbane Airport, the two new aircraft – secondhand ex Qantas A330-200 airliners – will be converted to tanker configuration by Airbus Defence and Space at Getafe, Spain.
“These aircraft will be based on two previously-owned Qantas Airways A330-200 airliners which will be converted to A330 MRTTs by Airbus Defence and Space at Getafe near Madrid and delivered in 2018,” Airbus Defence and Space said in a statement.
“The RAAF decided to use these particular aircraft as they are extremely close to the same basic specification as the KC-30As already in service.”
The two ex Qantas airframes are being acquired are VH-EBH (msn 892) and VH-EBI (msn 898), a Qantas spokesman has confirmed. Both aircraft were built in 2007 (and so are of a similar vintage to the existing RAAF KC-30s) and were leased by owner CIT Aerospace to Qantas. VH-EBH has already been withdrawn from Qantas service, operating its last service for the airline in May, while EBI is expected to be withdrawn by November.
The acquisition of extra KC-30s was first publicly flagged by former Defence Minister Senator David Johnston in a media interview last year.
“When you get good service from a platform it prompts you to say, ‘why don’t you get some more?’,” the then Minister was reported as saying.
After a difficult early development that saw the KC-30 acquisition managed under Defence’s ‘Projects of Concern‘ process, the aircraft has rapidly matured in service. Refuelling trials with the once troubled boom are now underway and earlier problems with the hose and drogue pods and support and sustainment issues have been resolved.
A single KC-30 has been deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE supporting RAAF and coalition strike aircraft flying combat missions over Iraq against Islamic State since last October, during which time it has offloaded 25 million pounds of fuel.
The KC-30s are operated by Amberley-based 33 Squadron.
The announcement was the second new A330 MRTT order this week after South Korea announced on Tuesday its selection of the aircraft ahead of Boeing’s 767-based KC-46 Pegasus. South Korea will take delivery of four A330 MRTTs – its first air-to-air refuelling aircraft – by 2019.