The Direction générale de l’armement (DGA, France’s defence procurement agency) has ordered an additional three A330 MRTT Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft. Manufacturer Airbus Defence and Space announced the order today. The latest aircraft, known as Phénix in French service, constitute the third and final tranche of the multi-year contract for 12 A330 MRTTs signed by the French defence ministry in 2014.
The first of the fleet was formally handed over in October and the remainder will be delivered by the end of 2023 under an accelerated timescale requested by France.
In French service the A330 MRTT is powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines and equipped with a combination of the Airbus Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) and underwing hose-and-drogue refuelling pods. The aircraft can be configured in a variety of layouts carrying up to 272 passengers as well as medevac arrangements including the French Morphée intensive care module carrying up to ten patients as well as 88 passengers.
In the forthcoming, January, issue of AFM, Henri-Pierre Grolleau reports on the end of a significant year for the French Air Force, which included official service introduction of the PC-21 advanced trainer and A330 MRTT less than three weeks apart.
The Phénix will become the main asset of the 31e Escadre Aérienne de Ravitaillement et de Transport Stratégiques (31st Air Refuelling and Strategic Transport Wing) which was established at Istres in August 2014. The wing is currently composed of the Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol 2/91 ‘Bretagne’ (GRV, or in-flight refuelling group) and the Escadron de Soutien Technique Spécialisés 15/93 (ESTS, or specialised technical support squadron).
The switch from the C-135FR to the A330 MRTT has been carefully prepared to ensure that operational capabilities are maintained. The Armée de l’Air has decided to retain its 14 C-135FRs/KC-135RGs until 2020 but, from 2021, the withdrawal will begin: the 11 C-135FRs will all be gone by December 2022, leaving the three KC-135RG variants to share the ramp with the new A330s until the end of 2026 or 2027.
The number of Phénix tankers to be acquired has recently been increased from 12 to 15, a step in the right direction even though the Armée de l’Air originally required 18 aircraft to replace the 14 Stratotankers, three A310s and two A340s currently in service.
See the January issue for more.