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Europe's Air Transport and Air-to-Air Refuelling Capability: Examining the Collaborative Imperative

Elizabeth Quintana, Henrik Heidenkamp and Michael Codner
Occasional Papers, 26 August 2014
Aerospace, Military Sciences, UK, Defence Management, Information, Technology
In an area of critical European reliance on US assets, the time may be ripe for co-operation

Operation Unified Protector over Libya in 2011 highlighted the critical shortage in European AAR and ISR assets, which to some extent limited the scope of the combat air campaign. It also brought home Europe’s continuing reliance on the US (which currently comprises some 90 per cent AAR capability) for air-power enablers.

According to current procurement plans, European nations will field around 100 tankers by 2025 which constitutes less than 40 per cent of the NATO requirement. European procurement programmes will rectify some of the shortfall in AT/AAR but platform numbers alone will not be sufficient for Europe to have a truly standalone capability.

There have been a number of ‘smart defence’ and pooling-and-sharing initiatives in the Air Transport (AT) space, including the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE), European Air Transport Command (EATC), Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) and the Strategic AirLift Interim Solution (SALIS). Set up in between 2006 and 2010, these were designed to ease Europe’s AT capability gap – particularly in support of NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan. However, as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan and looks to future contingency requirements, initiatives such as these might be expanded to help pool and manage the collective AAR capability.

This paper examines the European requirements for air transport and air-to-air refuelling (AT/AAR) in the future operating environment. The paper does not attempt to assess the peacetime requirements, but focuses instead on Europe’s ability to surge, particularly in terms of AAR during a time of crisis and therefore high demand. While the paper seeks to address the broader European questions, the authors have taken UK examples to examine how the community might evolve in the future. The paper is designed to promote debate ahead of the NATO summit in September and to raise awareness of this important enabling capability.

About the Authors

Elizabeth Quintana is Director of RUSI’s Military Sciences Department and also runs the Air Power and Technology programme, looking specifically at the future of air power for UK and for NATO at a time of increasing commitments and decreasing resources. The programme also explores the doctrinal, strategic and ethical implications of emerging technologies. She is responsible for conducting research, writing articles and organising events related to these topics.

Dr Henrik Heidenkamp is a Research Fellow in the RUSI Defence, Industries and Society Programme. His current research interests are the role of the private sector in defence, national and international defence management approaches and contemporary aspects of European and international security and defence policy.

Michael Codner is a Senior Research Fellow in Military Sciences and Editorial Director of RUSI Defence Systems. Until 2013, he was the Director of the Military Sciences Department at RUSI. He researches a range of subjects from defence policy, strategic theory and doctrine, to defence management, future concepts and the application of technology to military capability.

Elizabeth Quintana
Associate Fellow

Elizabeth is a RUSI Associate Fellow specialising in Futures and Technology. Her research considers the doctrinal, strategic and ethical... read more

Henrik Heidenkamp
Associate Fellow

Dr Henrik Heidenkamp is the Coordinator for Policy Management and Plans at NATO's SHAPE in Mons, Belgium.

He... read more

Michael Codner
Senior Associate Fellow for Military History

Michael Codner is a Senior Associate Fellow for Military History. Until 2013, he was RUSI's Director of the Military Sciences Research... read more

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