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Saudi Arabia Enhances Air Force Capabilities with New Airbus A330 Multirole Tanker Transport Aircraft.

On July 10, 2024, Airbus confirmed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has placed an order for four additional Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft for the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). This new purchase marks the third order of this type of aircraft by Saudi Arabia, further solidifying its position among the world's leading MRTT operators.
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Saudi Arabia Airbus A330 Multirole Tanker Transport Aircraft (Picture source: Airbus)

The new aircraft, which will begin conversion at the start of 2026, are scheduled to enter service in 2027. They will be used for air-to-air refueling and transport missions, meeting the RSAF's growing requirements for operational capabilities and strategic mobility.

Jean-Brice Dumont, Head of Air Power at Airbus Defence and Space, expressed his satisfaction: “This new order demonstrates the high level of customer satisfaction with the A330 MRTT.” He also highlighted the strategic importance of these aircraft in the Saudi defense arsenal.

The order includes a complete logistics support package, encompassing spare parts, training services, and technical support for the four new aircraft. All RSAF A330 MRTTs are equipped with hose and drogue pods, boom systems, and refueling receptacles, allowing for significant operational flexibility.

As part of this acquisition, an Industrial Participation (IP) agreement was signed in January 2024 between Airbus and the Saudi General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI). This agreement is part of Vision 2030, an ambitious Saudi government program aimed at diversifying the national economy. The agreement also includes the transfer of technology and know-how to local companies, strengthening the regional industry. The joint venture SAAMS, created between SAMI (Saudi Arabian Military Industries) and Airbus, will play a key role in industrial localization.

The A330 MRTT, regarded as the most capable new-generation tanker and transport aircraft, holds 90% of the market share outside the United States, with 82 orders from 15 different countries in Europe, Asia, America, and Oceania. This fleet expansion not only illustrates Saudi Arabia's commitment to defense modernization but also its continued confidence in European defense technologies.

The Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) is a multi-role aircraft derived from the civilian A330-200 airliner, designed to meet a variety of military needs such as troop, equipment transport, and air-to-air refueling. Stemming from prolonged considerations of the need for a versatile military aircraft, the development of the A330 MRTT is rooted in Airbus's initial studies for a military version of the A340, called the A340M, in the 1990s. This program, led by General Claude Lemieux under the auspices of COTAM (French Air Transport Command), already envisaged an aircraft combining both cargo and refueling functions. However, due to lack of funding, this project was eventually abandoned.

The experience gained from converting the earlier model, the A310 MRTT, along with the technical characteristics of the A330-200, facilitated the realization of the A330 MRTT. The aircraft shares the same wing design as the A340, including four reinforced attachment points, which allowed for the easy integration of the necessary refueling equipment. Refueling boom systems are installed at the engines numbered 1 and 4, simulating a quad-engine configuration, but with minimal modifications to the A330's basic structure.

Technically, the A330 MRTT can carry up to 111,000 kg of fuel, of which 60,000 kg are available for refueling other aircraft. Its transport capacity varies according to configuration, accommodating up to 380 passengers in a military setup, or 130 stretchers for medical evacuation missions. It can also transport standard commercial containers or eight NATO pallets, offering a cargo capacity comparable to military transport aircraft like the C-130 or the A400M.

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