RCAF orders two second-hand A330-200s for MRTT role

Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand announced on July 14 that Canada has finalized a contract to acquire the first two aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) that will replace and renew the capability currently fulfilled by the CC-150 Polaris fleet and later become part of the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability (STTC) fleet. The contract for the procurement and preparation of two second-hand Airbus A330-200 aircraft, manufactured in 2015, was awarded to International AirFinance Corporation and is valued at US$102m.

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Airbus KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) A39-004 departs from RAAF Base Darwin, Northern Territory, on June 2, 2022, during Exercise Diamond Storm 2022. The KC-30A is based on the commercial A330, two of which have now been ordered by the Royal Canadian Air Force for eventual conversion to MRTT configuration RAAF/LAC Sam Price

Since 1992, the CC-150 Polaris has provided the majority of air-to-air refuelling for the RCAF’s fighter fleet. This capability has seen extensive use at home and abroad, including on Operation Impact, during which it delivered more than 65 million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft. The fleet also fulfils many other roles, including military personnel and cargo airlift; strategic Government of Canada personnel transport; and medical evacuations.

After nearly 30 years of service, the RCAF is looking to the future of this crucial capability and, with this announcement, is moving forward to the next step of the STTC project. This project, which is Initiative  No 47 of Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE), will replace and renew the RCAF’s air-to-air refuelling capability for the next generation. The STTC project, within its currently approved scope, will acquire sufficient aircraft to provide the RCAF with three continuous lines of tasking to deliver on Canada’s defence policy, to defend Canadians, to meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO commitments, and allow the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to continue to contribute to peace and stability abroad through their operations.

The STTC aircraft will also be equipped to airlift large numbers of CAF personnel and their equipment in support of operations and training activities within Canada, including in Canada’s Arctic regions and around the world. This will enhance the existing transport capacity provided by the CC-177 Globemaster and CC-130J Hercules fleets, allowing for the more efficient movement of personnel and equipment. And, as a multi-role aircraft, the STTC aircraft will provide the RCAF with increased flexibility, allowing planners to select the most appropriate aircraft for a specific airlift mission. It will also increase the RCAF’s ability to respond to unexpected operational requirements, such as domestic or international emergencies or humanitarian relief missions.

The exact number of aircraft in the STTC fleet is currently anticipated to be six aircraft, including these two Airbus A330-200s. These two commercial aircraft will later be modified by Airbus Defence and Space to military specifications required to serve as multirole tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft within the STTC fleet and they will play an integral role in providing air-to-air refuelling, strategic airlift, aeromedical evacuations, and strategic Government of Canada personnel transport, including transport of the Prime Minister, Governor General, and others, for decades to come.

The aircraft are expected to arrive in Canada in winter 2023, when they may be placed into early service in passenger/cargo roles prior to their modification to military specifications. The aircraft being purchased are currently configured for long-haul commercial use. They may initially be used to perform cargo, troop and passenger airlift operations. This could include, for example, the deployment of CAF troops and equipment within Canada or overseas, the movement of civilian passengers in support of humanitarian relief operations, and transport of the Prime Minister, Governor General, and others.