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TurAF to Replace KC-135R Stratotankers with A330 MRTT Aircraft

The veteran KC-135R Stratotanker Tanker Aircraft in the inventory of the Turkish Air Force (TurAF) is expected to be replaced with the new generation A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) Aircraft from Airbus Defense & Space (ADS) in the coming years. The A330 MRTT was one of two candidates evaluated as part of the TurAF’s need for a New Generation Tanker Aircraft.

June 16, 2021

According to the information I have received, concrete progress has been made in the negotiations that started with Airbus Defense & Space in 2020, and it is said that the green light for the project may be given in the summer of 2021 (July/August).

Within the scope of the project, which will be carried out under the coordination of ASFAT (Military Factory and Shipyard Management Inc.) within the Turkish Ministry of National Defense (MoND), a total of 7 A330 MRTT Aircraft is expected to be delivered to the Turkish Air Force, to replace the 7 KC-135R Stratotankers in the inventory on a one-to-one basis. According to my sources, it is planned to procure the planes in 2+5 as part of Turkey’s higher business package demand. Although the A330 MRTT Aircraft has a higher fuel and personnel/cargo carrying capacity compared to the veteran KC-135R Stratotanker Aircraft (it is estimated that missions performed with 7 KC-135Rs today can be performed with 4 or 5 A330 MRTTs) A330 MRTT can be sufficient, I assess that the two important factors in determining the number of A330 MRTT as 7 are the increasing workload of the TurAF due to Turkey’s military presence (base/units) in 15 countries around the world, including Syria, Libya, Qatar, Somalia, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Sudan to ensure its own national security and international missions under NATO or UN umbrella, and the potential for the emergence of different unforeseen missions and configurations for the A330 MRTT Fleet. The A330 MRTT has sufficient spare capacity to take advantage of new digital technologies and can be fitted with a wide range of sensors to enhance its features beyond air-to-air refuelling and strategic air transport.

According to the current plan, in the first phase, ASFAT will select 7 aircraft with the lowest engine flight hours among the A330-200 widebody passenger airliner in the Turkish Airlines (THY) Fleet on behalf of MSB (there are 14 A330-200 aircraft with GE CF6-80E1 engines in the THY fleet). Then, the first plane will be ready for the MRTT conversion with a preliminary work expected to take 6 months (for example, the paint on it will be wiped, and the seats in the cabin will be removed). With the help of technical support and related documents from Airbus, structural transformation works on aircraft are expected to be carried out at the 2nd Air Maintenance Factory Directorate (2nd AMFD, former 2nd Air Supply Maintenance Centre [ASMC], the name of facilities was changed as 2nd Air Maintenance Factory Directorate in March 2017).

The first A330-200 aircraft, which will be transformed into a "green aircraft" under a 6-month preparatory work, will then be sent to Airbus Defense & Space's facilities in Getafe located 20km south of Madrid, the capital of Spain, for the MRTT structural transformation (conversion) work that is expected to take 12 months. A certain number of Turkish personnel will also participate in the structural transformation work on the first aircraft at Getafe facilities and receive on-the-job training. Although not certain at this stage, it is stated that in case of demand, the MRTT structural transformation work on the second A330-200 can also be carried out at Getafe facilities, but the structural transformation work on the other 5 aircraft is definitely planned to be carried out in Turkey.

During the MRTT conversion process of each A330-200 aircraft is installed some 16,000 types of new components and approximately 450 new electrical harness (for a total cabling length of more than 50 km), as well as 6,000 brackets and 1,700 connectors. TurAF A330 MRTTs are believed to have the ability to refuel both probe and receptacle-equipped aircraft and to be able to receive fuel as well.

It is said that the Turkish Technic Company, which provides maintenance and repair services to the A330-200 aircraft, including their avionic systems, may also take part in the structural transformation studies. Airbus Defense & Space Company will provide the necessary technical and know-how support for the preliminary preparation and structural transformation works to be carried out on aircraft. The subsystems to be integrated into the plane under the MRTT transformation works will also be procured from ADS. If the project is implemented, the MRTT conversion work of A330-200 aircraft will be carried out in Turkey for the first time after the UK. As may be remembered, the transformation process of the first 2 FSTA Voyager Tanker/Transport Aircraft under the Royal Air Force (RAF) Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) Program (14 aircraft in total) was carried out in Getafe, Spain, in 2009 and 2010; while the 3rd and 4th planes were converted at Cobham Aviation Services' facilities in Bournemouth, England. However, due to the delay in the process and the RAF's decommissioning of the venerable VC-10 and Tristar tanker aircraft in 2013, it was decided to transform the other 10 A330-200 aircraft also in Getafe.