This ongoing test campaign will enable NATO's Airbus A330-243MRTT fleet to aerially refuel the Saab JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighter platform in the future. The required tests are currently ongoing, both on the ground and in the air, to gain the technical and operational clearances needed for the MRTT to refuel the Swedish-made fighter.
One NATO MRTT (serial T-060) is taking part in this test campaign over the Baltic Sea alongside Swedish Air Force-operated JAS 39C/D Gripens. Such testing is scheduled to conclude on October 21 and the test reports gathered will be assessed by the Dutch Military Airworthiness Authority.
Final approval for the capability is expected in early 2023. This will not only provide Swedish Air Force Gripens with the opportunity to aerial refuel from the NATO MRTT, but Gripens from the Czech Republic and Hungary will be able to take fuel from the hose and drogue system of the NATO MRTT. This enabling Gripen fighters of NATO and its partners to perform longer range missions without the requirement to return to base for a refuel.
Jan Der Kinderen, NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) MMF System Manager, said during the trials: “So far, the MMF could make use of already existing documentation of clearances performed by other MRTT users, mainly from Australia and the United Kingdom. However, no receiver clearance against a MRTT exists for the Saab Gripen yet.
“Since the Gripen is operated by Czechia, one of our valued MMF partners, we decided that the MMF would take the lead in the receiver clearance process.”
AAR operations are an essential for NATO missions, especially in the current global climate and the requirement for longer Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions and air policing duties on the NATO border. The MRTT’s 111 tonnes of fuel capacity takes away the need for additional fuel tanks on the fighter aircraft, making them more agile in flight.
The MMF is owned by NATO and controlled by the NSPA. It does not only provide AAR capability to multiple nations, but also, strategic transport of freight and personnel and medical evacuation capabilities. The MMF is formed of six partner nations, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Norway. These nations have access to the MMF capabilities based on the contracted hours each nation has. The fleet currently comprises seven A330 MRTTs and final deliveries to complete the fleet of nine are expected in 2024.