Fuelling the Flight

As the saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

For the RSAF’s fleet, flying alongside a tanker aircraft would certainly help to enhance an aircraft’s flight endurance. Air-to-air refuelling (AAR) is an essential capability that enables aircraft to remain in the air longer, and provides the RSAF with greater operational flexibility for a variety of missions.

Working closely with the RSAF, our team led the acquisition of the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft – the RSAF’s next generation tanker transport aircraft – which has since attained full operational capability (FOC).

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The RSAF, Airbus and DSTA team with the A330 MRTT.

Equipped with enhanced AAR capability, the A330 MRTT extends the endurance of fighter aircraft, and also allows for tanker-to-tanker refuelling – something its predecessor was unable to do. Furthermore, the A330 MRTT’s higher fuel capacity and ability to airlift greater cargo loads make it possible to render better support when deployed on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peace support operations.

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An A330 MRTT refuelling a F-15SG.

Drawing from their deep expertise, the team found novel solutions to help streamline resources and operations, achieving significant cost savings and advancing the first aircraft’s delivery.

This included putting forth the idea to reduce the crew size from four to three. Principal Engineer (Air Systems) Ang Wei Qin explained: “With the A330 MRTT’s improved avionics and crew consoles, and taking reference from the KC-135R’s three-crew operation mode, we believed it would be feasible to operate the MRTT with a smaller crew.”

The team worked closely with the RSAF to streamline operational processes, and conducted a cognitive workload study to reassign tasks to a three-man crew. Their assessment not only enabled manpower optimisation, but also paved the way for A330 MRTT operators around the world to adopt the crew size as the standard.

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The DSTA team behind the programme.

Beyond that, the team spearheaded technical efforts to ensure the A330 MRTT was qualified to refuel the RSAF’s F-16 in flight. The team analysed existing flight test results between MRTTs and F-16s, and performed a technical study to compare the results with the RSAF’s A330 MRTT and F-16 pairing. Through this, the team determined that they could qualify the pairing via analysis, which saved the effort of further flight trials and allowed the RSAF to start performing operational AAR missions without delay.

Concurrently, the team worked with Airbus and the RSAF to enhance the boom control software onboard the A330 MRTT, and developed an innovative solution tailored to the F-15SG, taking into account the off-centre location of the fighter’s refuelling receptacle.

During the aircraft’s FOC ceremony, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen commended the team: “[DSTA’s] expertise and persistence enabled operational and technical problems to be addressed. DSTA engineers worked with the original equipment manufacturer to resolve the problem and their proposed modifications are now being assessed and promulgated across the global fleet of MRTTs. This is quite an achievement and is the fruit of consistent and effective tech integration by our engineers working alongside our servicemen.”

Passionate about delivering a versatile platform to the RSAF, the team is always ready to go the extra mile – just like the tanker.

“The successful delivery and operationalisation of the A330 MRTT is testament to our team’s tenacity. Today, we’re exploring how emerging tech can be further assimilated into the aircraft. For instance, we’re looking at incorporating automatic AAR capabilities to reduce operator workload,” said Senior Programme Manager Programme Office (Air Systems) Lee Ser Yam.

“With tech advancements on the horizon, we are excited for what the future holds.”

Also find out more about the A330 MRTT hangar!