French Air and Space Force close to stop operating C-135FR air tankers after receiving 12th Airbus A330 MRTT

Originally, Laurent Lagneau writes in Opex360, the French Air and Space Force’s intention was to order 14 tanker aircraft, but due to budget constraints, this figure was reduced to 12 before finally being increased to 15. The project to acquire Airbus A330 MRTT tanker aircraft to replace the Boeing C-135FRs, especially for the Strategic Air Forces, has undergone many changes since its launch over ten years ago.

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French Air and Space Force close to stop operating C 135FR air tankers after receiving 12th Airbus A330 MRTT 1 French Air and Space Force Airbus A330 MRTT (Picture source: Airbus)

However, it is essential to modernize and enhance the air-to-air refueling capability, not only for the airborne component of nuclear deterrence but also for force deployments in external theaters of operation.

On September 21st, the General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) announced that it had received and delivered the 12th and final A330 MRTT ordered from Airbus to the French Air and Space Force. The DGA also noted that this first series of 12 deliveries had been completed by Airbus in less than 5 years, starting with the first delivery in October 2018. It should be noted that the three other planned A330 MRTTs will be A330-200s, including two used ones already in service with the French Air and Space Force, which will be converted into tanker aircraft starting in 2025.

The delivery of the twelfth aircraft marks the end of the use of C-135FRs, especially within the 4/31 "Sologne" Air Refueling Squadron based in Istres. The last remaining C-135FR still in service will be permanently retired by the end of 2023. As recalled by Laurent Lagneau, these C-135FRs were heavily utilized until the end, even participating in "reassurance" operations conducted by NATO after the start of the war in Ukraine, as well as missions related to nuclear deterrence and permanent air safety posture (PPS-A).

The 4/31 Sologne squadron is expected to retain its three KC-135RG aircraft for some time. These aircraft, acquired secondhand from the US Air Force in 1997, underwent renovation in 2014, including the integration of new avionics, high-frequency wire antenna, and RENO GATM (Global Air Traffic Management) interface.