Defining the Smart Tanker

The RAAF’s KC-30A tanker is having a big year in 2017 – with important milestones achieved and the continuing development of its capabilities and additional aircraft delivered. The KC-30A has become the Coalition’s ‘tanker of choice’ among combat jets taking the fight to Islamic State forces in the Middle East – a remarkable achievement considering that it was on the Government’s Projects of Concern list when initially deployed to the region less than three years ago.

Further, into the future a number of technological upgrades aim to transform the aircraft into a node in the Air Force’s networked vision of the future, as defined under Plan Jericho.

The first of the technology insertions proposed include an Automatic Air to Air Refuelling (A3R) capability, the development of the tanker to become a Command & Control (C2) node, enhanced communications that harness Airbus’ Space Data Highway initiative, and ‘Big Data’ that will deliver increased levels of reliability leading to increased mission success rates, by predicting failures in critical mission systems. The Smart Tanker concept is designed to be flexible enough to adapt to changing technologies.

Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal ‘Leo’ Davies, has signed a research agreement with Airbus to co-operate on the development of the KC-30A’s capabilities, the first of which will be the Automatic Air Refuelling (A3R) capability.

“It is a combination of real-world operational experience, industry experience and the exploitation of technology, and it’s an indication of joint thought, the reason we need co-operation between Air Force and industry to realise Plan Jericho.”

Final Operational Capability

Defence Minister Marise Payne has declared Final Operational Capability (FOC) for the KC-30, following an intensive period of receiver clearance expansion and operational activity for the RAAF’s tanker fleet. No 33 Squadron has maintained a single aircraft rotational deployment to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) since September 2014.

“The KC-30A has been an outstanding asset over Iraq on Operation Okra, having offloaded over 74 million pounds (33,566 tonnes) of fuel to coalition aircraft, including Australia’s F/A-18A Hornet and E-7A Wedgetail aircraft,” Minister Payne said. “It is on the front line, making sure the Hornets can take the fight to Daesh effectively.”

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