Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 17 seconds.
In a surprise move on July 14, Canada announced that it has finalized a contract to acquire the first two aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) that will provide a strategic transport and air-to-air refuelling role — currently fulfilled by the fleet of five CC-150 Polaris aircraft — as part of the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability (STTC) project.
Airbus Defence and Space, and its A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, was the only bidder to qualify for the project in April 2021. Today’s announcement means two A330-200 aircraft will be prepared to meet the requirements of the RCAF. The aircraft are used — manufactured in 2015 and previously leased and operated by Kuwait Airways — and are currently in commercial configuration.
The contract for the procurement and preparation of the two Airbus A330-200s was awarded to global aircraft leasing company, International AirFinance Corporation (the owner of the A330s), and is valued at US$102 million (taxes excluded).
The two commercial aircraft will later be modified by Airbus Defence and Space into the MRTT configuration to serve as multirole aircraft within Canada’s STTC fleet.
According to the Department of National Defence (DND), several allied nations have procured used A330-200 aircraft and have worked or are working with Airbus to convert those aircraft to the MRTT configuration to support their operations.
Canada’s eventual STTC fleet is anticipated to be six aircraft, which includes the first two A330-200s.
The A330s will replace the RCAF’s CC-150 Polaris aircraft (a modified variant of the Airbus A310-300), which have been in service since 1992. The Polaris provides the majority of air-to-air refuelling for the RCAF’s fighter fleet, and also fulfills other roles including military personnel and cargo airlift; strategic Government of Canada personnel transport; and medical evacuations.
“After nearly 30 years of outstanding service [with the Polaris fleet], the RCAF is looking to the future of this crucial capability, and with today’s announcement, we are moving forward to the next step of the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability (STTC) project,” a DND press release reads.
The Canadian government issued an invitation to qualify for the STTC project back in February 2021. The RCAF was seeking a multi-role platform that could be configured for air-to-air refuelling, personnel airlift, strategic government transport, and aeromedical evacuations, among other roles. The aircraft required the capacity to detect, avoid, and defeat air-to-air and ground-to-air threats, and needed to be capable of refuelling allied fighter jets on NATO and NORAD operations in a tanker role.
Both Boeing and Airbus made offers, but only Airbus’s offering made the cut. The OEM referred to its A330 MRTT aircraft as “the only new generation, combat-proven, multirole tanker available.”
Boeing had offered its KC-46 Pegasus, a militarized variant of the 767 widebody, but was informed in April 2021 that its aircraft did not qualify for the project.
The DND confirmed that the A330 STTC fleet will “play an integral role in providing air-to-air refuelling, strategic airlift, aeromedical evacuations, and strategic Government of Canada personnel transport.” The aircraft will also be equipped to airlift large numbers of CAF personnel and their equipment in support of operations and training activities within Canada — which will augment the existing transport capacity provided by the CC-177 Globemaster and CC-130J Hercules fleets.
The first two aircraft are expected to arrive in Canada in the winter of 2023; while they are currently configured for long-haul commercial use, the DND said they may be placed into early service in passenger/cargo roles as they await their modification to military specifications.