NATO has achieved a significant milestone in its air power capabilities by declaring initial operating capability (IOC) for its Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) Unit (MMU) on 23 March.
The MMU is a High Visibility Project that establishes a multinationally owned and operated fleet of MRTT aircraft, based on the Airbus A330 platform, that can provide air-to-air refuelling (AAR), air transport and medical evacuation services to NATO nations.
The MMU is composed of seven MRTT aircraft that are stationed at Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands, where NATO operates a dedicated operations centre. Three more aircraft are expected to join the fleet by 2026, bringing the total number of MRTTs to 10. The MMU is supported by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), which provides acquisition, logistics and maintenance services.
The MMU is a unique example of multinational cooperation and burden-sharing within NATO, as six member states participate in the project: Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway. These nations contribute personnel, funding and operational requirements to the MMU, while benefiting from its shared capabilities and availability. The MMU also offers opportunities for other NATO allies and partners to join or use its services through bilateral arrangements.
The IOC declaration means that the MMU is now ready for a full range of missions across different domains and regions. Since its inception in 2020, the MMU has already proven its value by supporting several NATO operations and exercises, such as:
- Enhancing air policing and deterrence measures on NATO’s eastern flank in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
- Facilitating the evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover
- Deploying to the Indo-Pacific region for training activities with key partners like Australia
- Providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in various crisis situations
In 2023, the MMU plans to expand its operational scope by deploying to the Middle East to support NATO’s counter-terrorism efforts against ISIS. The MMU will also continue to enhance its interoperability with other NATO assets and platforms, such as E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control aircraft and C-17 transport aircraft.
The IOC declaration marks an important step towards achieving full operating capability (FOC) by 2024. At that time, the MMU will provide 10,000 flight hours per year to meet the growing demand for AAR, air transport and medical evacuation capabilities within NATO. The MMU will also enable NATO allies to reduce their dependence on national or third-party tanker assets while increasing their operational flexibility and efficiency.
The MMU is a clear demonstration of NATO’s commitment to strengthening its air power capabilities and enhancing its collective defence posture. By pooling resources and sharing costs among participating nations, the MMU provides an innovative solution to address common challenges and needs in a complex security environment. The MMU also showcases NATO’s ability to adapt and innovate in response to emerging threats and opportunities.
Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) Unit
Air refueling is a vital capability for modern air forces, enabling them to extend the range and endurance of their aircraft and conduct missions across long distances. However, air refueling assets are often scarce and expensive to operate, requiring coordination and cooperation among allies and partners.
That’s why the Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) Unit (MMU) was established in 2014 as a joint initiative of six NATO nations: Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway. The MMU aims to provide a pooled fleet of eight Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft that can perform air-to-air refueling, strategic airlift and medical evacuation missions.
The MMU is based at Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands and Cologne-Bonn Airport in Germany. The first two aircraft were delivered in June 2020 and the remaining six are expected to arrive by 2024. The MMU operates under a single command structure and a common set of rules and procedures. The participating nations share the costs and benefits of the MMU according to their contribution.
The MMU is a unique example of multinational cooperation in defense procurement and operations. It enhances the interoperability and readiness of NATO air forces while reducing duplication and inefficiencies. It also contributes to NATO’s collective defense and crisis management operations by providing flexible and responsive support to allied aircraft.
The MMU is not only a valuable asset for NATO but also for other international organizations such as the European Union or the United Nations. The MMU can offer its services to third parties on a case-by-case basis, subject to approval by all participating nations. This way, the MMU can foster cooperation with other partners around the world and promote peace and security.
The Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport Unit is a new era of air refueling that demonstrates how NATO allies can work together to achieve more with less.