A RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) has returned from the United States following the first round of air-to-air refuelling trials with F-16 multi‑role fighters.
From December 3-15, the KC-30A conducted seven flights with F-16s from the United States Air Force (USAF), the refuelling being conducted using the tanker’s 18‑metre-long advanced refuelling boom system.
The KC-30A conducted 444 contacts with the F-16s, offloading more than 25 tonnes of fuel. While Australia does not operate the F-16, the jet is one of the most prolific combat aircraft in service in the world today.
RAAF’s KC-30A Transition and Receiver Clearance Manager with No 86 Wing, Wing Commander Grant Kelly,, said the trials would yield a conditional clearance for the KC-30A to refuel USAF F-16s.
“In early 2016, we will return to the United States to conduct further clearance test flights with the F-16 and other combat aircraft,” WGCDR Kelly said.
“There are a number of different F-16 variants in service with the USAF and other foreign air forces which will require additional refuelling clearances.”
Air-to-air refuelling is a ‘force multiplier’ in modern air operations, enhancing the range and payload of receiver aircraft.
“The KC-30A recently refuelled the RAAF E-7A Wedgetail on Operation Okra, and boom refuelling will gradually increase on Coalition Operations in the Middle East,” WGCDR Kelly said.
“Clearing the KC-30A to refuel the F-16 is a major milestone in enabling our aerial refuelling operators to refuel other boom-capable aircraft on combined operations and exercises.”
At the heart of the trials in the United States are Flight Test Engineers from the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), along with qualified contracted aerial refuelling operators, who are working with their counterparts in the USAF at Edwards Air Force Base.
The lead ARDU Flight Test Engineer for the F-16 activity, Flight Lieutenant Ben Liersch, , said it had involved significant planning during the past two months, both in Australia and the United States.
“It’s good to build an integrated team that can achieve a significant amount in a short time,” FLTLT Liersch said.
“ARDU will continue to operate as part of the integrated test team to analyse the results from testing so that ultimately a safe and effective operational clearance can be delivered,” he said
The RAAF operates five KC-30A MRTTs, with two more joining the fleet from 2018. The KC-30A has a fuel capacity of more than 100 tonnes, allowing it to fly up to 1800 kilometres from its home base and offload up to 50 tonnes of fuel for four hours.
The KC-30A’s ARBS is compatible with refuelling the E-7A Wedgetail, the C-17A Globemaster III, P-8A Poseidon, and other KC-30As. Refuelling trials were successfully completed in October between a RAAF KC-30A and a USAF F-35A Lightning II.
Within the Indo-Pacific region, the F-16 is operated by the United States, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Pakistan, and Japan. Further afield, the F-16 is operated by several air forces in the Middle East Region and NATO. The clearance activity will enhance interoperability with other Air Forces across the world.