Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft

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Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft
Royal Air Force Airbus A330-203 at Airbus factory of Getafe, Spain
Project for aerial refueling tanker aircraft
Service Royal Air Force
Outcome AirTanker consortium's Airbus A330 MRTT selected

Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) is a British project to procure aerial refuelling (AR) and air transport (AT) for the Royal Air Force to replace VC10 and Lockheed TriStars then in service. After evaluation of bids the RAF selected the AirTanker consortium which had offered the Airbus A330 MRTT. AirTanker is owned by Cobham plc, EADS, Rolls-Royce plc, Thales UK and VT Group plc. The Royal Australian Air Force announced in April 2004 that they had selected Airbus to provide tankers to a similar specification; in November 2010 it was suggested that the French Air Force might buy spare FSTA capacity.[1][2]


A Royal Air Force Lockheed TriStar, converted L-1011-500 used as tanker-transports for over 20 years by the time of the new programme
The first RAF Vickers VC10 aircraft entered service in 1966

The project was to provide a replacement of the RAF's fleet of Vickers VC10s from 2008 and the Lockheed TriStars around 2012. The chosen aircraft will operate from the same RAF air transport hub, RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire as the replaced aircraft.

The need for a new fleet of air-to-air refuelling aircraft was first identified in 1997. The use of PFI rather than purchase was chosen in 2000. The FSTA will be a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) where the RAF will pay for aerial refuelling and air transport missions as required. The RAF will continue to retain responsibility for all military missions, whilst the contractor will own, manage and maintain the aircraft and also provide training facilities and some personnel. The private company will also be able to earn extra revenue by using aircraft for commercial operations when not required by the RAF — the most suitable of which would be leased air-refuelling missions for other European air forces. The RAF however will always have the "first call" on aircraft, being able to mobilise the entire fleet in times of crisis.


Final bids for the project were received from the two competing consortia on 30 April 2003.[3]

Selection and contract negotiations[edit]

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 26 January 2004 that Air Tanker had been selected to enter into final negotiations to provide the RAF's FSTA.[5]

Following aircraft selection the MoD began exclusive negotiations with the Airtanker consortium. However, beginning in April 2004, there were rumours about the fragile state of the contract negotiations. With continuing doubts over the FSTA programme, Marshall Aerospace, responsible for the conversion of the RAF's original TriStars, offered to buy and convert some of the large number of surplus commercial TriStars.[6]

On 28 February 2005 the MoD named Airtanker as its preferred bidder for the £13bn contract.[7]


The MoD announced on 6 June 2007 that AirTanker had been given the approval it needed to continue with the project, allowing the company to seek the £2 billion private financing required to begin funding the aircraft. On 27 March 2008, a PFI deal was agreed with AirTanker, worth £10.5 billion over the course of the contract, and will involve 14 converted A330 aircraft being delivered from 2011 and being operated until at least 2035.[8] The contract will be paid for at £390 million per annum. Of this running costs are £80 million and the remainder covers the consortium's financing and profit [9] and the capital cost of the project, including aircraft and infrastructure.[10]

All aircraft will be equipped with a pair of wing-mounted aerial-refuelling pods, while only seven FSTAs will be fitted for centreline flight refuelling units (FRUs); each conversion will take about nine months. The AirTanker facility is based at RAF Brize Norton, where a two-bay hangar and support building will provide a maintenance facility, flight operations centre and office headquarters for the programme.[11]Lufthansa Technik will provide support, repair, and overhaul services.[12]

The first two development aircraft went through a comprehensive military conversion process and initial flight testing programme at Airbus Military’s facility near Madrid. It was intended that the remaining 12 aircraft destined for the FSTA fleet would be converted by Cobham Aviation Services at their facility in Bournemouth,[13] but in June 2012 it was announced that the final ten aircraft would be converted in Spain to ensure that they were delivered on time and to cost.[14] 320 British jobs were lost as a result.[14] The first aircraft to be converted in the UK arrived at Bournemouth Airport on 26 August 2011. Cobham held a ceremony to formally open the newly refurbished A330 conversion facility in Bournemouth on 2 September 2011. In a naming ceremony at RAF Fairford during the 2011 Royal International Air Tattoo, it was announced that the aircraft will be known as "Voyager" in RAF service.[15]

The first completed aircraft arrived at RAF Brize Norton in December 2011; after a prolonged certification process, it began training flights in April 2012.[16] Following technical issues with the new Cobham-designed High Speed-Variable Drag Drogue when refuelling the Tornado the drouges on the wing tip pods were replaced in early 2012 with standard Sargent Fletcher drogues, delaying the Release To Service clearance required to conduct Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) operations. Certification was finally granted on 16 May 2013 and the first operational tanker flight launched on 20 May 2013.[17]

By late 2012, three are due to formally enter service, with a further four or five expected to be delivered by the end of 2013.[18]

Financial reviews[edit]

A review of the scheme by the National Audit Office (NAO) was published in March 2010, concluding that it did not represent value for money. The NAO decided that mistakes had been made at the beginning of the procurement process, leading to expensive additions to the plans and contract later on.[10]

The Public Accounts Committee found that the aircraft specification did not feature the adequate protection required for flights into Afghanistan, and would therefore mean the Lockheed Tristar would continue to fulfil this role until 2016. This had been caused by the FSTA scheme beginning prior to the commencement of military operations in Afghanistan, and a significant delay in any decision being made on including the required protection systems within the contract.[19]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "L'Europe de la défense est franco-britannique - ce n'est pas une première". Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  2. ^ "UK–France Summit 2010 Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation". Retrieved 2010-11-10. "FSTA" 
  3. ^ "Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) fact sheet". UK Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 8-01-2010. 
  4. ^ the facilities management company already operating Brize Norton
  5. ^ "Airbus lands £13bn MoD contract". BBC News. 26 January 2004. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Winchester Air International January 2009, pp.52—53.
  7. ^ "EADS closes in on RAF tanker deal". BBC News. 28 February 2005. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  8. ^ "AirTanker: FSTA preparations on track". Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
  9. ^ "EADS you lose" In the Back, Private Eye No. 1260
  10. ^ a b "Ministry of Defence: Delivering multi-role tanker aircraft capability". National Audit Office. 30 March 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  11. ^ "FSTA (Voyager) arrives in the UK for the first time". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  12. ^ "Lufthansa Technik to support UK's FSTA fleet". Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  13. ^ "FSTA (Voyager) arrives in the UK for the first time". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Jones, Rhys (22 June 2012). "UPDATE 2-Britain loses Voyager work and 320 jobs to Spain". Reuters. 
  15. ^ "RAF's largest aircraft Voyager officially unveiled". BBC News. 16 July 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  16. ^ "Voyager achieves its first flight in RAF service". AirTanker Ltd. 8 April 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  17. ^ Osborne, Anthony (20 May 2013). "AirTanker Cleared To Begin Air-To-Air Refueling Operations". Aviation Week. Retrieved 25 May 2013. 
  18. ^ "IN FOCUS: Shared Voyager delivers the RAF's new tanker/transport". Flightglobal. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  19. ^ "Delivering Multi-Role Tanker Aircraft Capability". Public Accounts Committee. 16 September 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 

External links[edit]