Use of the UK's new Airbus A330 Voyager tanker/transports is set to be expanded from later this year, with the growing fleet set to receive an enhanced suite of self-protection equipment required to meet the Ministry of Defence's theatre entry standard for flights into Afghanistan.
"Voyager's defensive aid suite [DAS] was delivered to specification. However, following a reassessment of requirement, a request was made by the MoD to deliver an enhancement to this capability," says Phill Blundell, chief executive of the AirTanker organisation tasked with providing the new type.
"AirTanker, in partnership with the MoD, started work on this process more than 18 months ago, and we are now well advanced in delivery," Blundell says. The modification process was contractually formalised during March, with the first aircraft expected to enter a DAS enhancement programme in May 2013.
Work to integrate the additional self-protection equipment is to be performed by AirTanker's own engineering team at the type's home base, at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. "We do not envisage any risk to the delivery of full capability against our May 2014 full in-service date," Blundell notes.
Three Voyagers are being used in the air transport role only, with the RAF expected to soon give release-to-service approval for the type to begin conducting training for delivering its crucial air-to-air refuelling mission, where it will replace the UK's last Vickers VC10s and Lockheed TriStars.
"Flight trials for the [Panavia] Tornado [GR4] were completed late last year and AirTanker completed the qualification process in February," Blundell says. "The MoD is continuing with its release to service process, with the aim of bringing this capability into service shortly."
While a clearance has already been given for the Tornado to receive fuel from the Voyager, AirTanker is awaiting a similar clearance to allow its aircraft to pass fuel.