The UK has no requirement to use its future fleet of Airbus Military A400M Atlas tactical transports in a secondary tanker role, minister for defence equipment, support and technology Philip Dunne has confirmed.
"The Ministry of Defence has recently refreshed its study into requirements for air-to-air refuelling capability," Dunne said on 14 March. "This concluded that [the A330] Voyager will meet all requirements; therefore, there is no need for an air-to-air refuelling capability by the A400M Atlas."
Tanker-equipped A400Ms could support utility helicopters like Eurocopter's EC725
Three aircraft from an eventual core fleet of nine Voyagers are in Royal Air Force use, under a private finance initiative deal with the AirTanker consortium. The modified A330s are being used in a passenger transport role, pending release-to-service approval for the type's air-to-air refuelling system - a milestone which AirTanker has previously described as "imminent".
A total of 14 A330s will be provided under the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme, with five of these to made available for third-party use but kept at short-notice readiness to support a surge in operations, if required.
Airbus Military is scheduled to deliver the RAF's first of 22 A400Ms to the service's Brize Norton air base in Oxfordshire in September 2014, with two further examples to follow later the same year. Eight more will be handed over to the UK in 2015, with the type also due to achieve in-service status in March of that year.
Deliveries to the RAF will continue with the transfer of six aircraft in 2016 and two each during the following two years, before a gap to the planned acceptance of its last example in 2021.
The A400M will be delivered with an in-built tanker capability, with some nations expected to acquire hose-and-drogue refuelling pods and/or hose drum units to provide an in-flight refuelling capability to support fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.