The Secretary General attended a ceremony to mark the initial operational capability of the aircraft fleet, together with Dutch Minister of Defence, Kajsa Ollongren, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, and officials from five other nations participating in the project: Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Luxembourg and Norway.
“These aircraft will provide us with world-class air-to-air refuelling, air transport and air medical evacuation capabilities. Tanker aircraft is the backbone of Allied air power,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “Most importantly, the fleet has already proven its value. Since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, these tanker transport aircraft have helped to protect NATO’s eastern flank,” he added.
Last year alone, the fleet flew more than 500 missions, refuelling hundreds of NATO fighter jets to keep Allied airspace safe. These aircraft have also supported the evacuation of civilians and refugees from Afghanistan, deployed to the Indo-Pacific for exercises with key NATO partners, including Australia, and later this year, they will deploy to the Middle East to support operations against ISIS.
The European Defence Agency, the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, and the NATO Support and Procurement Agency worked together to develop this state-of-the-art fleet.
“This is an excellent example of how NATO and the EU are working together to deliver critical capabilities for our members,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “This also demonstrates that European Allies are stepping up for their defence and strengthening our shared security,” he concluded.
Currently, seven aircraft from the fleet are in service. Two more are expected to join in 2024, with the tenth aircraft scheduled for delivery at the end of 2026. /BGNES