• Five KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft from No 33 Squadron on taxiway Alpha at RAAF Base Amberley.
    Five KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft from No 33 Squadron on taxiway Alpha at RAAF Base Amberley. Defence

The RAAF’s Airbus KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport fleet is set to have a busy year ahead, with activities including ongoing support to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO), the deployment of Air Force fast jets across the Pacific in both directions and participation in exercises at home and overseas.

The KC-30As are operated by No.33 Squadron at Amberley and the seventh and (to date) last aircraft entered service during the course of 2019. This final aircraft differs from the rest of the fleet in that it is fitted with a VIP interior in the forward half of the cabin, which enables it to perform the Government Transport Communications (GTC) role in addition to its existing Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) and Air Logistics Support (ALS) capability.

During 2019 the government re-committed a single KC-30A to the Middle East in support of Operation Okra, a tasking which first began with the deployment of RAAF Super Hornet Fighters to the region in 2014. In addition to their duties in the MEAO, 33 Sqn has continued supporting ADF deployments and exercises and towards the end of last year it also supported the airlift of firefighting personnel as part of bushfire relief efforts.

During these latter flights, the squadron conducted an ‘elephant walk’ of five aircraft at Amberley, to highlight the KC-30As capability and availability.

“Launching five KC-30As demonstrates a capacity to concurrently transport over one thousand passengers or ferry more than 40 Hornets across Australia,” explained Group Captain Steve Pesce, then OC 86 Wing, following the event.

“Alternatively, five aircraft could position 1,800 kilometres from base and offload 250 tonnes of fuel to receivers over four hours.

“The capacity to project this magnitude of airpower at range has previously been beyond Air Force.”

And 2020 is already shaping up to be busier still, with the fleet now flying at a rate of around 5,000 hours per year. Late last year 33 Sqn supported the trans-Pacific delivery flights of seven RAAF F-35As and this year it will continue this work as aircraft roll off the production line in Fort Worth, Texas. This year, the squadron will also take F-35As back to the United States for exercise and bring home a number of RAAF EA-18G Growlers which have been deployed since late 2019.

There are also major domestic exercises, such as Pitch Black in July and August, for which the aircraft’s capabilities will be a key enabler. The RAAF is supporting partners and allies, including France, South Korea, Singapore and the NATO Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) with the introduction of their own aircraft, and this work will also continue throughout the year.

Finally, the squadron continues to support the manufacturer’s trials of new technology, including an Automatic Air to Air Refuelling (A3R) capability and will continue working through a number of receiver clearance trials in the US, including A-10s, B-2s, B-52s and F-15s.

A detailed report on the current status of the RAAF KC-30A fleet and technology likely to find its way into the aircraft will appear in the March issue of ADM.

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