Brazil green lights tanker transport acquisition

Brazil’s Ministério da Defesa (Ministry of Defence) has approved the purchase of two multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft, which will supplement the Força Aérea Brasileira’s (FAB, Brazilian Air Force’s) existing air-to-air refuelling fleet.

Authorisation for the rapid acquisition of two strategic MRTT aircraft under the KC-X3 project was given by Brazil’s Minister of State for Defence, Walter Souza Braga Netto, in a decision order issued on May 10. The order specifies that the two aircraft should be purchased as second-hand assets to reduce costs, while still being capable of meeting all of the FAB’s requirements. Brazil is expediting the programme after the air force’s lack of a large fixed-wing transport was highlighted during the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colombian AF KC-767 Red Flag March 2019 [USAF/Airman 1st Class Bailee A Darbasie]
A Colombian Air Force-operated Boeing KC-767-200ER MMTT takes-off at Nellis AFB, Nevada, during Red Flag 19-2 on March 11, 2019. A converted commercial 767 could well be a contender in the Brazilian Air Force's new KC-X3 Project requirement. USAF/Airman 1st Class Bailee A Darbasie

The FAB has previously attempted to acquire new MRTTs in recent years. On March 14, 2013, it was formally announced by the FAB’s Comando da Aeronautica (Air Force Command) that the service had selected Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) as the winner of the KC-X2 project. The programme sought to replace Brazil’s then-existing Boeing KC-137 (-320C/-345C) tanker fleet, which entered operational service in 1986 and was fully retired by the end of 2013.

Under this previous deal, IAI was to convert two commercial Boeing 767-300ERs to MRTT standard for FAB use. However, the programme was ultimately abandoned, and a formal contract was never finalised. More recently – on January 28, 2021 – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that funds were being sought to purchase two Airbus A330s to fulfil strategic transport duties but did not mention anything about the aircraft having an additional tanking role. Both the A330 and Boeing 767 would seem to be the most likely alternative candidates for Brazil’s latest MRTT purchase.