Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Air Tanker Ltd. A330
RoleAir-to-air refueling
Crew 2 Pilots & AAR operator
Unit cost
Primary contractorAir Tanker Ltd.
Date deployed Estimated 2008
Length193 ft59 m
Wingspan (to winglet tips)197 ft 10 in60.3m
Height57 ft 17.4m
Max. peace-time take-off Weight507,000 lb217,000 kg.
EnginesTwo Rolls-Royce Trent 700 turbofan engines
Thrust71,000 lbf each316 kN each
Maximum speed540 kt Mach 0.82
Ferry range6,450 nm / Global, with in-flight refueling
Service ceiling41,000 ft12,500 m

The Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) will provide aerial refueling (AR) and Air Transport (AT) for the Royal Air Force using a version of the Airbus A330 MRTT. The Royal Australian Air Force announced in April 2004 that they had selected Airbus to provide tankers to a similar specification.



Plans involve the replacement of the RAF's current fleet of Vickers VC10s from 2008 and the Lockheed Tristars around 2012. The new fleet will continue to operate from the RAF air transport hub, RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. It has yet to be announced what role the current AAR/AT squadrons, No. 10 and No. 101, will have in the PFI arrangement.

The FSTA will be a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) where the RAF will pay for aerial refueling and air transport missions as required. The RAF will continue to retain responsibility for all military missions, whilst the contractor will own, manage and maintain the aircraft and also provide training facilities and some personnel. The private company will also be able to earn extra revenue by using aircraft for commercial operations when not required by the RAF - the most suitable of which would be leased air-refueling missions for other European air forces. The RAF however will always have the "first call" on aircraft, being able to mobilise the entire fleet in times of crisis.


Final bids for the project were received from the two competing consortia on 30 April 2003.

Aircraft Selection

The UK Ministry of Defence announced on January 26, 2004 that Air Tanker had been selected to enter into final negotiations to provide the RAF's FSTA.

The reasons for the selection of Air Tanker are many and varied but some include,

  • An overall more capable aircraft in the Airbus A330
    • The Airbus A330-200 can carry over 50 % more fuel than the KC-767 and can therefore fly further, stay on station longer and refuel more aircraft.
    • Huge fuel offload of 111 tonnes is achieved without the need for additional fuel tanks - leaving aircraft cabin free for passenger and air cargo operations.
    • Equipped with the most advanced flight deck in the wide-body aircraft market, incorporating the latest "fly-by-wire" systems.
    • Extensive use of lightweight composite materials, resulting in reduced fuel consumption, increased durability and better corrosion resistance.
  • The attraction of a European solution with associated employment,
    • Aircraft conversion to tanker configuration
    • Fitment of military avionics
    • Aircraft certification
  • Tension between Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems over project delays and cost rises on other major projects (e.g. Nimrod MR4 and Astute SSN)

Contract negotiations

Following aircraft selection the UK MoD began exclusive negotiations with the Airtanker consortium. However, beginning in April 2004, there were rumours about the fragile state of the contract negotiations. This culminated in an ultimatium by the UK's Defence Procurement Agency, delivered to EADS, demanding a reduced price for the aircraft. With continuing doubts over the FSTA programme Marshall Aerospace, responsible for the conversion of the RAF's original Tristars, have offered to buy and convert some of the large number of surplus commercial Tristars. This would give the UK a much needed increase in capacity (with the upcoming retirement of the VC-10 fleet) at a fraction of the cost of the 13Bn FSTA project.

On February 28 2005 the MoD named Airtanker as its preferred bidder for the 13bn contract.

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