France orders 12 A330 tanker transport aircraft
By Pierre Tran
PARIS — France has signed a €3 billion (US $3.8 billion) contract for 12 Airbus A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a high-level conference on the French nuclear deterrent Thursday.
The contract, due to enter into effect early next month and drawn up by procurement office Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), is with Airbus Defense and Space, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Le Drian’s announcement of the long-awaited MRTT contract drew warm applause at the conference, which marked 50 years of the French Air Force’s nuclear wing, named the Strategic Air Forces.
The Air Force and the DGA teams worked with Airbus, Thales, Rolls-Royce and other firms to draw up the deal. The contract has been going through ministerial clearance and will enter into effect in the “first few days of December,” Le Drian said.
The Air Force has named the new aircraft Phoenix.
The first MRTT will be delivered in 2018, the second in 2019, and then at a rate of one or two per year, the ministry said.
A renewal of the inflight refueling fleet is needed as the MRTT replaces the Boeing C135, which was “already there in 1964,” Le Drian said. The French Air Force’s first Mirage 4 fighter carrying an AN 11 nuclear bomb took off on Oct. 8, 1964, he said.
Inflight refueling is indispensable for air power, a capability that guarantees French strategic autonomy, its position in the front ranks and in a coalition, he said.
Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines will power the French MRTT, which will be equipped with both an Airbus refueling boom system and underwing hose-and-drogue pods, Airbus Defence and Space said in a statement.
The €3 billion deal includes development and qualification of the French configuration, support and training systems, spares, ground support equipment, training devices and five years of support, the company said.
The current refueling fleet, composed of 11 C135FR and three KC135 RG aircraft, is part of the strategic air forces that comprise Dassault Mirage 2000N and Rafale fighters. The MRTT will also replace three A310 and two A340 jets.
An airborne nuclear deterrence, unlike the stealthy nuclear ballistic missile submarine, is visible, and can help open up “political and diplomatic” moves with the potential adversary, Le Drian said.
The cost of maintaining an airborne deterrence is “moderate” and will account for some 5 percent of the French nuclear defense budget in the next 10 years, he said.
France sets aside some €3.5 billion a year to maintain the deterrence, which is carried on the four nuclear missile submarines and the air wing, which is land based and carrier-borne.
The French MRTT will be able to carry up to 271 passengers, carry 50 tons of fuel and fly intensive care medevac. The aircraft can also operate as a node for command and control, satellite communications, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Relayé par : Nicolas Trussardi
Source : DefenseNews (Etats-Unis)