During two weeks the Dutch, French, German and Italian tankers performed day and night missions in different and complex scenarios.

EART 2016 Air Refuelling exercise Eindhoven
Belgian F-16s during exercise EART 2016.

The European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training - EART 2016 took place at Eindhoven Air Base, April 10-22. The exercise was supported by the European Defense Agency (EDA) and organized by the European Air Transport Command (EATC) and the Netherlands at Eindhoven AB.

EART16 was conducted over two-week period, offering participants a unique opportunity to plan and execute missions within a multinational framework. To ensure aircrew benefit from realistic training scenarios in a modern air combat environment, EART16 was organised in support of the Dutch-hosted fighter exercise “Frisian Flag 2016”.

Four different tankers from The Netherlands (KDC-10), France (C-135FR), Germany (A-310 MRTT) and Italy (KC-767) together with their air and ground crews participated in the 2016 EART edition.

The overall objective of EART16 was to address the lack of interoperability amongst European tanker crews and to develop knowledge in air-to-air refuelling (AAR) planning and tasking through a dedicated exercise – the only of its kind in Europe. The first edition of EART took place in April 2014 in Eindhoven. 

EART16 was build-up gradually with increasingly complex scenarios, starting with single-ship missions and evolving to become part of tanker cells in support of COMAO missions within Frisian Flag 2016. 

Air-to-air refuelling (AAR) is a critical enabler for air power projection and is required to enable sustained air combat operations. As a unique force multiplier, it is a fundamental technical characteristic embedded in modern aircraft design; not just in combat aircraft, but across the full spectrum of air platforms – including in the near future Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. 

Despite the importance of AAR, European air forces have systematically relied on American assets over the last decades. This was clearly demonstrated in the Kosovo campaign in 1999 and confirmed during the operations over Libya in 2011. Today, Europe is only able to field about 40 tanker aircraft which, when compared with the US resources of over 500 tankers, is a clear indication of the European shortfall in this field.

The lack of dedicated training for the European AAR community is also recognised as a shortfall and is being addressed through the EART series of exercises, which also help streamlining procedures and thus increasing interoperability amongst the European AAR community. Through other work strands, EDA is also addressing this lack of interoperability by organising certification campaigns in order to increase the number of receiver aircraft that are able to refuel on European tankers.

Air-to-Air Refuelling was endorsed by the EDA Steering Board in November 2011 as one of eleven Pooling & Sharing priorities. At the subsequent board meeting in March 2012, Ministers declared their willingness to support further development of AAR capabilities and to better coordinate them. They agreed that aerial refuelling capabilities should be developed in Europe as a matter of priority; and that these capabilities should be made available for potential use during CSDP, NATO, or other framework operations. 

In response to this, EDA has developed a global approach to AAR in Europe. This involved three objectives: increasing the overall AAR capacity, reducing fragmentation of the fleet, and optimising the use of assets. This approach was implemented for training under the leadership of the European Air Transport Command (EATC), which jointly developed and organised EART together with the Dutch air force and the EDA. 

Written by: Matteo Sanzani

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