French Air Force Chief: Tankers Soon, but Anglo-French UAV Much Later

 - November 18, 2011, 11:37 AM
The French will buy 14 A330MRTTs to pool in a common fleet with the UK Royal Air Force tankers, seen here. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The French Air Force will sign a contract for between five and seven A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transports in 2013, with quick deliveries foreseen, according to its commander General Jean-Paul Palomeros. Budget difficulties thwarted earlier French attempts to procure a new tanker. This was followed by suggestions that France would seek to use spare capacity on the UK Royal Air Force’s forthcoming fleet of 14 A330MRTTs, as part of the Anglo-French Defence Agreement.

But Palomeros told AIN that NATO air operations over Libya had underscored the need for Europe to boost its air-refueling capacity. The French Air Force currently flies 14 aging KC-135 tankers. The new French A330s would be pooled with the UK, and there would be discussions with the RAF over the addition of command-and-control capabilities to the joint fleet. France would eventually acquire 14 A330MRTTs, Palomeros added, with a second batch serving to replace the service’s A340 and A310 VIP and transport fleet.

Palomeros also confirmed that the French Air Force would not introduce the Anglo-French Telemos UAV until at least 2020. It is a proposed development of the BAE Systems Mantis medium-range long-endurance UAV, which has already flown. France recently decided to adapt the IAI Heron TP to meet near-term requirements.

“We need to define the operational requirements and develop a clear road map. The Mantis is a good platform, but we have real work to do regarding systems and communications,” Palomeros told AIN. During the Air Chiefs Conference at the recent Dubai Air Show, he identified key concerns about current UAV operations, including interoperability, multitasking and multisensor exploitation.