The Republic of Singapore Air Force currently relies on 4 re-engined KC-135R aerial refueling tankers, in order to extend the range of its fighter jets, and perform some long-range transport and cargo missions. This means that they share their aircraft type with the USAF, but it also means that they share the problems and rising operating costs that accompany aging aircraft.
In February 2012, the RSAF set a process in motion to replace their KC-135Rs with a new refueling aircraft. Two of the expected contenders are familiar. The 3rd is less so.
Airbus’ A330 MRTT/ KC-30B (winner). Has more fuel and cargo capacity than the KC-767s, in exchange for higher purchase and operating costs. Picked by Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE as well as by Singapore’s regional partner Australia. France will be buying some of its own soon, and India also seems interested in this aircraft. The standard model includes a newly-developed refueling boom, as well as the standard hose-and-drogue system used with most European aircraft.
From a maintenance point of view, Singapore Airlines operates the A330 as the most numerous type in its fleet. While Singapore Airlines does operate Boeing planes, they don’t operate any 767s. Even so, the other 2 contenders were both 767s.
KC-767. Boeing’s smaller KC-767 has been picked by Italy and Japan, and was eventually chosen by the USAF as its KC-46A. The KC-767A comes with a full refueling boom as well as hose-and-drogue pods, and Boeing promoted that version at Aero Singapore 2012.
The bad news? If the RSAF wants the new and improved USAF KC-46A version instead, they’ll have to wait until it’s fully developed, tested, and certified. That’s likely to mean waiting until 2018, or later.
K-767 MMTT. The 3rd option was also a 767. Israel Aerospace Industries’ Bedek subsidiary offers a cheaper B767 MMTT (Multi-Mode Tanker/Transporter), which can be based on carefully sourced used 767-200ER or 767 cargo aircraft, in order to bring the price way down. Colombia currently flies 1, Brazil has committed, and a new version is promised with the boom refueling system that Singapore’s American fighters would need. It was touted at the Aero Singapore 2012 exhibition, and Singapore has long-standing defense ties with Israel.
While the K-767 MMTT’s current hose-and-drogue conversion is designed to ease international airspace certification through its similarity to the 767 cargo type cert, it’s doubtful that a feature as significant as a boom can be added without additional time for re-certification. That can take quite a long time.
Contracts & Key Events
March 5/14: Winner! The Singapore MINDEF’s official cyberpioneer publication tweets:
“Air Force will replace ageing KC-135R with Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft. #SGBudget”
Airbus Military later confirms that the deal is for 6 aircraft; price isn’t mentioned, but it’s going to be a $1+ billion deal. Singapore’s F-16s, F-15SGs, and likely future F-35s all use dorsal refueling receptacles, so the planes will have a refueling boom, per the standard A330-MRTT configuration outside of Britain.
The move gives Singapore commonality with Singapore Airlines, which operates the A330 as the most numerous type in its fleet. It also assures commonality with Australia, and possibly with the future Indian Air Force, whom Airbus describes as “in the final stages of contractual negotiations for six aircraft.” See also cyberpioneer, “Dr Ng showcases SAF 2030 at budget debate” | Airbus Military, “Singapore selects Airbus Defence and Space A330 MRTT Multi Role Tanker Transport” | Flight Global, “Singapore confirms A330 MRTT buy”.
Feb 21/12: RFI. Quoting “industry sources,” Aviation Week reports that Singapore has issued its aerial tanker RFI. Speculation is that the formal RFP is due in mid-2012.
Outside the USA, aerial refueling orders tend to be for 1-6 planes, and even Britain and France are looking at just 10-14. A 4-plane order may not seem like much, but it’s about average size for the global market, on an item that typically carries a $150-300 million price tag. IAI Bedek thinks they have a way to beat that range; the question is whether Singapore will be OK with a conversion strategy. India was not, for instance, even though that meant a much more expensive buy.
Feb 16/12: 767 MMTT. IAI’s Bedek civil aircraft conversion specialists say that they have finalized the design and tests of certain new systems developed specifically for their new 767 MMTT. The new version will add a new fly-by-wire Boom refueling system, with a Remote Aerial Refueling Operator (RARO) station and day or night viewing systems, on top of the existing Hose & Drogue system. IAI Bedek’s Moshe Scharf tells Defense Update that:
“Three years ago we began developing the new generation of 767 MMTT. We are expecting the supply of this type of aircraft to certain European air forces in the coming months…”