Republic of Korea's First MRTT Arrives in Country

 - November 14, 2018, 5:30 AM
The Republic of Korea Air Force's first MRTT takes off from Getafe, Spain, on November 9 on its ferry flight to Gimhae Air Base via Vancouver. (Photo: Airbus Defence and Space)

The Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) first A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) has been delivered to South Korea for acceptance testing, three years after the country ordered the aircraft from Airbus Defence and Space.

The company announced on November 12 that the aircraft had arrived at Gimhae Air Base in Busan, South Korea, having taken off from Airbus’s final assembly line in Getafe, Spain, on November 9 for its ferry flight via Vancouver, Canada.

The aircraft was piloted by a joint Airbus and ROKAF crew for the ferry flight and will now undergo ground and flight testing at Gimhae. This is likely to last a month and will include refueling flights with the ROKAF’s Boeing F-15K and Lockheed Martin KF-16 fighters.

According to the OEM, the ROKAF testing will be supported by an Airbus team that will be based in South Korea until the aircraft is officially handed over.

South Korea selected the A330 MRTT in 2015 as part of a deal worth $1.3 billion. The other contenders for the bid were the Boeing KC-46A and a Boeing 767 conversion from Israel Aerospace Industries. At the time, the A330 MRTT had won every aerial refueling competition outside the U.S., although Japan’s selection of the KC-46A in September broke that winning streak.

The ROKAF will receive four examples with all aircraft expected to be delivered by 2019.

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said the purchase of the A330 MRTT would extend the operational radius of the country’s fighter aircraft to “remote areas such as Dokdo, Leido, and the North Pyongyang-Wonsan Line”.

The DAPA added that the provision of MRTT aircraft will increase South Korea’s ability to deploy personnel overseas for peacekeeping operations and take part in other international support missions.

In September, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) also received its first MRTT from Airbus. Singapore selected the air-to-air refueling aircraft in 2014 and will receive a total of six. Like South Korea, Singapore is expected to use the fleet for international humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief missions, as well as peace support operations.

In October, the French air force received its first A330 MRTT “Phénix” after its first flight in September. A total of 15 aircraft are on order to replace the service’s aging Boeing KC-135 and Airbus A310/A340 fleets that are currently used for aerial refueling and transport operations. France will also accelerate deliveries of the first 12 aircraft to ensure that all are delivered by 2023, two years ahead of schedule.

The French aircraft are the new standard MRTTs that include structural modifications, aerodynamic improvements that reduce fuel burn up to one percent, as well as upgraded avionics computers and enhanced military systems.