The Dutch operate a mixed fleet of 'stretched' C-130J-30 aircraft, which were purchased new,

and refurbished standard length C-130s

Italy is very much going it alone as far as AAR assets are concerned as it will be the only country within EATC operating the Boeing KC-767

The aircraft is the most modern refuelling aircraft currently on strength and is a major upgrade on the assets operated by its allies

The Dutch tanker fleet currently consists of just two McDonnell-Douglas KDC-10s assigned to 334 Squadron at Eindhoven

Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) is one of four 'Priority Programmes'  currently being undertaken by the European Defence Agency. However, despite the importance of AAR, Europe is still only able to muster a small number of tanker aircraft at any given time, which when compared with the U.S. resources of over 500 aircraft, is a clear indication of the European shortfall in this field. The EDA is working hard in conjunction with member states to address both the lack of interoperability and the numbers of available aircraft. At present, the Italian Air Force has four Boeing KC-767A;  the German Air Force has four Airbus A.310-MRTT; the French Air Force has three C-160 Transalls and 14 Boeing C-135FR; the Royal Netherlands Air Force has two McDonnell-Douglas KDC-10; the Spanish Air Force, five KC-130H Hercules and the Italian Air Force, three KC-130J.

On 28th July 2016, Luxembourg signed a memorandum of understanding with The Netherlands Government to purchase tw0 Airbus A330-MRTT aircraft, with options for up to six more. The two aircraft are planned for delivery in 2020 to Eindhoven Air Base and will be 'owned' by NATO as part of the pooling agreement under MMF. The two aircraft will be registered by The Netherlands, who will also be responsible for maintaining their airworthiness. As mentioned previously, Belgium, Germany and Norway have subsequently signed up to the MMF programme, with orders now totalling eight aircraft.

14° Stormo is the unit that provides aerial refuelling for the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, together with an additional transportation capability

The first of four Boeing KC-767s, based on the civilian Boeing 767-200ER (Extended Range), was delivered on 29th December 2010

Supplementing the A330-MRTT in the AAR role will be the A400M, which is also capable of carrying under-wing pods and a central hose & drum refuelling unit. All A400Ms are 'plumbed' to provide an AAR capability at the factory in Sevilla. This new option will radically modernise and increase NATO and EATC's options in terms of both tactical and strategic mobilisation of its air assets.

Lockheed C-130J to supplement the A400M fleets

France and Germany signed an agreement on 18th October 2017, whereby Germany and France agreed to set up a C-130J joint air transport squadron at BA105 Évreux. France has committed its four aircraft and the German's the six that were ordered in 2016. The programme schedule provides for Initial Operations Capability (IOC) to commence from 2021 onwards, with Full Operational Capability (FOC) expected in 2024. A training centre will also be built in cooperation and equipped with one or two simulators.

Belgium was another founding member of EATC in 2010. Belgium's main operating base is at Brussels-Melsbroek, where it operates a mixed fleet of C-130 Hercules and Embraer 135/145s, alongside a single Dassault 900 and Airbus A321 under the auspices of 15 Wing. Major overhauling of the fleet is planned, with the C-130 scheduled for replacement by seven Airbus A400Ms, whilst the Falcon 900 and Embraers used for VIP transportation will be sold off and the mission outsourced to private enterprise. Belgium recently announced a €258 million investment in the joint-European air-to-air refuelling programme. This will increase the number of European tanker aircraft to eight. Plans are to base the aircraft at Eindhoven (Netherlands) and Köln (Germany). The project has chosen the Airbus A330-MRTT, with first deliveries scheduled between 2020 and 2022.

The Airbus A330-MRTT can carry up to 111 tonnes of fuel, the highest capacity of any tanker aircraft. With the capacity to offload 50,000kg of fuel to a wide range of receiver aircraft, the A330-MRTT can deploy fighter aircraft over long distances. The aircraft is capable of supporting the deployment of four fighter aircraft plus 50 personnel and 12 tonnes of freight over 5,200km (e.g. from Europe to Afghanistan). Alternatively, a single A330-MRTT can carry a maximum payload of up to 45 tonnes; such as 300 Passengers; or a MEDEVAC cabin layout with 40 stretchers, 20 seats for medical staff and 100 passengers, together with 37 tonnes of equipment in the lower cargo deck.

​​Jetwash Aviation Photos


Air-to-Air Refuelling from the A400M can be achieved either through two wing-mounted hose and drogue refuelling pods, or through a single centre-line hose and drum unit (HDU). The under-wing refuelling pods can each provide a fuel flow of up to 400 US gal / 1,200 kg per minute to receiver aircraft. The centre-line HDU provides a higher fuel-flow of 600 US gal / 1,800 kg per minute. AAR operations are monitored via three cameras controlled from the cockpit by the co-pilot. The A400M can refuel the entire range of probe-equipped aircraft thanks to its powerful turbo-props, enabling it to fly at the low speeds and altitudes to refuel slow receivers, as well as at higher speeds and altitudes of about 300 knots and 20,000ft typically used for refuelling fast-jets.

The Ejercito del Aire (EDA-Spanish Air Force) joined the EATC along with Italy in 2014. The EDA currently provides 13 Airbus Military C295Ms and 11 C/KC-130 Hercules to the Command, along with the newly introduced A400M, of which one was delivered in 2017. The EDA has a total of 14 A400s on order, the second of which is due for delivery in 2018. It is expected that the C-130 Hercules' will remain in service until 2022 with Ala.31 at Zaragoza, by which time the full complement of A400s is expected to have been delivered. The C295M, which entered service 2001-2006, is a stretched derivative of the CN235 transport and is noted for its short take-off and landing capability on semi-prepared runways.

France plans to continue to 'go it alone' as far as its aerial refuelling assets are concerned, however like the majority of its European partners it will centre its fleet on the Airbus A330-MRTT. The French have so far ordered nine aircraft, with a total of 12 planned, with the first aircraft due for delivery some time in 2018. The French aircraft will be equipped with both a high-speed refuelling boom and underwing hose-and-drogue refuelling pods, allowing it to refuel receiver aircraft that use either of the current systems in operation with NATO and its EATC partner nations.

At present, Luxembourg is the only member nation of EATC that does not operate any military transport or AAR assets. However that is all about to change with the introduction of the A330-MRTT fleet.

The French Boeing C-135FRs have been in service since 1964

Plans are already in motion to introduce the A330-MRTT as a replacement

European Air Transport Command

'Seven Nations-One Command'

The Belgian Air Component currently operate four Embraers; two 135LRs and two 145LRs (above)

Plans were announced early 2018 to replace the fleet, possibly outsourcing to a civilian contractor


The number of air-to-air refuelling assets under the command of EATC will gradually increase over the coming years with the introduction of the Airbus A330-MRTT and the Airbus A400M (air refuelling kits are planned for the German, French and Spanish A400 aircraft). EATC will foster synergies with the multi-national A330-MRTT initiative, which is aimed at acquiring and operating a common European multi-role tanker/transport fleet. Four out of the five nations involved in MRTT, which launched in July 2016 with the first order for two aircraft by the Netherlands and Luxembourg, are currently EATC members. Belgium, Germany and Norway joined the MRTT programme in 2017, the three countries signing a 'Declaration of Intent' on 16th February 2017. It is expected that a total of eight aircraft will join the fleet, with the first two due for delivery in 2020. Current planning is for the aircraft to be based at both Eindhoven and Köln/Bonn. The aircraft will be configured for in-flight refuelling, the transport of passengers and cargo, and medical evacuation flights.

The French were one of the four founding members of the EATC in 2010 and have a variety of transport and air-to-air refuelling assets available to the organisation.  The Armée de l'Air is currently undergoing a number of modernisation programmes to either add to or enhance its current fleet. The transport fleet modernisation sees the Airbus A400M slowly replacing the smaller C.160 Transall, whilst the J-model Hercules is supplementing the exising C-130H fleet at Orleans. In recent years the medium-range Airbus CN.235 fleet has also been expanded. As far as the air-to-air refuelling (AAR) role is concerned, plans are afoot to replace the aging Boeing C-135FR with a fleet of new Airbus A.330MRTTs (multi-role tanker transports), whilst the A400M fleet will also provide additional AAR capability to both the French Air Force and EATC.


336 Squadron at Eindhoven is responsible for tactical transport operations for the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu-Royal Netherlands Air Force), using four Lockheed C-130 Hercules. In comparison to its larger neighbours, the KLu provides a relatively small number of aircraft to EATC, just the four C-130s, two KDC-10 aerial refuelling aircraft and a single Gulfstream IV VIP transport aircraft (left), all of which operate out of Eindhoven. Strategic transport is provided by two McDonnell-Douglas KDC-10s in service with 334 Squadron. The two aircraft are converted DC-10-30CFs, which are due for replacement from 2020 when the first of the Airbus A330-MRTT are scheduled for delivery as part of the EDA's combined tanker force.

A400Ms Air-to-Air Refuelling Capability

Joining EATC from the outset, the German Air Force currently supports the alliance with its current fleet of 26 x C-160,  15 x A400M and 5 x A310 aircraft from three bases (Hohn, Wunstorf and Köln-Bonn). Like most members of EATC the German's are undergoing a major overhaul of their transport fleet; the C-160s have been reduced to just one unit (LTG-63 at Hohn), whilst the first of 40 A400Ms have entered service with LTG-62 at Wunstorf. The A310 fleet, which provides both strategic transport and A2A refuelling, will be replaced as part of the European Defence Agency's combined tanker force, which will see them replace with larger and more capable A330-MRTTs.

As mentioned earier, the Italian's have a small number of kits available to convert its C-130J Hercules to KC-130J variants

A KC-130J aircraft is seen here after touching down at RAF Fairford, UK

The KLu Gulfstream IV (above) was purchased second-hand in 1995. Having escaped government cut-backs on a number of occasions, it is expected to soldier on until December 2018. A replacement aircraft is being looked into but as yet no particular aircraft has been identified

As with the AAR fleet, it is of course possible that the EATC may well look into 'pooling' VIP fleets across member nations 

The Spanish Air Force is the only country within EATC to operate the Airbus Military/CASA 295M

13 of this tactical transport are currently in service with Ala.35 at Getafe

The EATC Fleet

EATC operates a diverse, multi-national fleet of approximately 200 aircraft, representing about 60% of all current military air transport assets within the European theatre. EATC handles the full operational process of the fleet, from planning and tasking, to controlling, both during peacetime and in times of crisis.

The diversity of the fleet, which operates more than 20 different types of aircraft, gives EATC a unique flexibility and the opportunity to optimise its missions, which include air transportation, air-to-air refuelling, and medical evacuation.

Of much older vintage than the AMI's KC-130Js are the KC-130H models of the Spanish Air Force

Based with Ala.31 at Zaragoza, the fleet will eventually be replaced by the Airbus A400M, all of which are 'plumbed' at the factory in Sevilla so as to enable them to provide an AAR capability

Established in September 2010 at Eindhoven Air Base, Netherlands, the European Air Transport Command (EATC) is a multi-national command with a fleet composed of over 160 assets located at various national bases throughout the seven member nations. EATC provides military air transport, air-to-air refuelling and aeromedical evacuation, its overall objective being to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the member nation's military air transport efforts. Originally driven by France and Germany, NATO and the EU identified shortfalls in its strategic transport structure, and so initiatives were developed over the years to form a multi-national command structure. The EATC was initially formed by four nations; The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. Luxembourg joined the alliance in 2012, followed by Italy and Spain in 2014.


The C-160 Transall was operated in large numbers by the German Air Force, with 110 originally on strength

Now being replaced by the larger four-engine A400M, deliveries have been slow due to gearbox and fuselage issues

This has resulted in the Transall continuing in service longer than anticipated, and it is estimated that they will soldier until 2021

Brigadier General Andreas Schick. The Deputy Commander rotates on a three-year basis between Italy, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. The current incumbent is Italian Brigadier General Francesco Saverio Agresti. All seven member nations are also represented by 'Senior National Representatives', who on the one hand interface between EATC and their respective nation, acting as national superior for their personnel assigned to EATC, whilst also holding the rotational positions of the division heads and the deputy division heads, together with heading the  Public Affairs Office. The Command Group is supported by three divisions: the Operational Division, the Functional Division and the Policy & Support Division.

A type operated by five of the member nations is the Lockheed C-130 Hercules

A Belgian Air Component example is seen here powering out of RAF Fairford in the U.K

#G-988 is one of two ex-US Navy EC-130Q Hercules purchased in 2006 and re-worked to C-130H standard

An Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) Airbus A310 is seen landing in Gando, Gran Canaria

Three such aircraft are operated by the French, but often transport troops belonging to other countries

An Airbus Military CN.235 of the Armée de l'Air is captured shortly after landing

The fleet has undergone expansion in recent years and now has 27 aircraft available to EATC

One of the Key Features of EATC is the 'pooling' of assets to support individual nation's requirements on an as required basis. Know by the acronym ATARES (Air Transport & Air-to-Air Refuelling and other Exchanges of Services), it is an exchange system for air transport services which actually involves all 28 European and NATO nations within the arrangement. The system is based on an 'Equivalent Flying Hour' (EFH) cost basis of one C-130/C-160 flying hour. All other aircraft types available within in the framework of the ATARES arrangement are calculated against this C-130/C-160 cost point. The arrangement facilitates mutual support through the exchange of services using ATARES as the 'currency'.

This cashless system enables each nation to save on outsourcing expenses and to also optimize use of its aircraft. Examples of how ATARES can be used are as follows; 1) A Dutch KDC-10 conducts an air-to-air refuelling mission on behalf of Spain, whilst a Spanish KC-130 offers a parachute drop mission to Germany, whilst German military personnel and Italian cargo are transported by a French A400M, or 2) a Luxembourg Learjet executes an aeromedical  evacuation for a wounded Belgian soldier, whilst an Italian C-27J transports Dutch cargo, whilst a Belgian Embraer moves French soldiers, whilst a German A310 executes an aeromedical evacuation mission for Luxembourg.

These examples provide a clear illustration of how the EATC maximise the use of every available aircraft whilst eliminating the need for individual nations to send an aircraft long distances to conduct a mission, when there is an available asset belonging to another member that is much closer.

The C-160 Transall is gradually coming to the end of its service life with the French Air Force

                                 Air-to-air refuelling is one of EATC's three focal point. As a major force multiplier, it enables receiver aircraft to extend their range,                               endurance, payload and flexibility. In recent years EATC has managed to build up its experience in AAR and in 2014 it created a dedicated AAR cell. Five EATC member nations (The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy and France) already have their own AAR assets, but in the future, it is planned that all seven nations will share their AAR capabilities. Current operations utilising AAR assets often result in pooling EATC's assets whereby a tanker from one nation may be required to refuel an aircraft from another nation. Interoperability is therefore essential for success, and so to achieve interoperability and guarantee common operations, it is of utmost importance that the nations train together on a regular basis. EATC therefore introduced the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) exercise that runs concurrently with the annual Frisian Flag exercise in The Netherlands.


Summary:-  In the coming years both NATO and EATC member nations will see radical overhauls of their transport and AAR fleets. In the transport role, the C-130 Hercules and C-160 Transalls that once dominated will be reduced to very small numbers, with the A400M taking prominence. The AAR fleet will be dominated by the A330-MRTT, with just Italy breaking that dominance with its small fleet of Boeing KC-767s. What will change most is the rise of pooled fleets of aircraft as against individual nations trying to go it alone, or even opting not to rely on its own AAR fleets, rather trusting in its alliances with the U.S.A or other NATO members. With that doctrine having proved unreliable and difficult in the past, particularly back in 2011 during Operation Unified Protector, pooling assets and cost sharing is clearly the way forward in these years of austerity. With the NATO E-3A fleet paving the way many years ago and the Heavy Airlift Wing C-17s following suit at Papa some years later, it is surprising that this method of obtaining and maintaining aircraft fleets has not come to prominence sooner. If successful, which is most likely, the pooling of aircraft is more than likely to increase in the future as governments reduce their military spending budgets and asset costs increase. To be honest, for many nations it may be the only option!


The AMI's C-27J Spartan is assigned to 98º Gruppo/46º Brigata at Pisa

3-Point AAR The A330-MRTT ordered under the MMF agreement are what's known as 3-point tankers, meaning that they have three methods of refuelling receiver aircraft based upon their specific requirements. First up is the Airbus Defence & Space Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS), used for receptacle-equipped aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-35A Lightning II. Its fast fuel-flow rate (up to a maximum of 3600 kg/min – 1200 US gal/min) makes the ARBS the most capable new generation boom system available. The second method available to the A330 are the two wing mounted Cobham 905E refuelling pods that use the hose and drogue refuelling method. These enable the A330-MRTT to refuel any NATO or allied probe-equipped receivers such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Tornado, or the FA-18 Hornet. Due to the restrictions associated with this method of refuelling, the fuel offload rate is 1300 kg/min – 420 US gal/min. The third method available is via the Cobham 805E Fuselage Refuelling Unit (FRU), a removable hose and drogue unit that allows refuelling receivers with a different fuel type. This option allows for one fuel type to be transferred from wing-mounted pods, whilst an alternative fuel type is dispensed from the FRU for large probe-equipped aircraft such as the A400M or C295 with a higher fuel offload rate of 1800 kg/min – 600 US gal/min.

The Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI-Italian Air Force) joined EATC in 2014 and currently provides two Gruppo of C/KC-130J Hercules and one Gruppo of the C-27J Spartan to EATC's transport element, together with four Boeing KC-767A tanker/transports. The C-130s and C-27s are based at Pisa with 46º Brigata, whilst the KC-767s of 14º Stormo are based at Pratica di Mare, near Rome. The C-130 fleet consists of ten 'stretched' C-130J-30s and ten standard C-130Js together with five 'kits' that allow any of the C-130Js to be converted to KC-130J aerial refuelling aircraft. Of the 22 originally delivered, 20 remain in service together with seven of the AMI's fleet of 12 Spartans.

The Luftwaffe received its first A400M in December 2014, with an expected fleet of 40

The aircraft has a larger payload and cruising altitude than the Transall it replaces

The Home of Military Aircraft

A 46º Brigata C-130J Hercules is seen on approach to its home base at Pisa-San Guisto

The German's took delivery of seven Airbus A310s from 1991, with two being converted to MRT (Multi-Role Transport) versions. Structural strengthening along with a cargo door in the port forward fuselage gave the aircraft a capacity of up to 214 passengers, or 36 tonnes of freight (or a combi passenger/freight mix), or 56 stretchers and six intensive care patients. The first MRT conversion was delivered in June 1999. The two MRTs together with another two standard aircraft were later converted to MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) versions between 2002 and 2005. The A330-MRTTs currently on order as part of the Multi-National Multi-Role tanker/transport Fleet (MMF) will provide a far more modern and cost-effective option to the Luftwaffe by sharing the day-to-day costs of running a fleet of tanker aircraft between several nations.

The largest aircraft available to EATC for strategic troop transportation are the two Airbus A340-212s of the French Air Force

The aircraft are based with ET.060 at Paris/Charles de Gaulle airport along with the A310s

EATC's organisational structure:-
Headquartered at Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands, EATC operates assets from seven nations under one command, with one common set of rules and regulations. The Commander and the Chief of Staff are rotated every two years between France and Germany. The current Commander is French Major General Pascal Chiffoleau, whilst the Chief of Staff is German