Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA)

Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) is a PFI project to replace the RAF’s fleet of VC10 and TriStar aircraft in the Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) and most Passenger Air Transport (AT) roles.

Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft refueling

Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) refuelling two RAF Typhoons [Artist's impression]

Air-to-Air Refuelling is a key military capability that provides force multiplication and operational range enhancement for front line aircraft across a range of defence roles and military tasks. FSTA PFI will break new ground in the provision, by industry, of services to the front line.

Service - RAF


The current AAR & AT capability is provided by the RAF’s operational fleets of VC10 and TriStar aircraft. All VC10s can operate in the air refuelling role, with some also able to operate in the air transport role. The TriStar fleet comprises some air transport and some dual-role aircraft.

These aircraft are reaching the end of their useful lives and will need replacement in the coming decade. The Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) will replace the AAR capability and elements of the AT work undertaken by the current fleet.

FSTA will be provided via a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) arrangement, with industry working in close partnership with the RAF. The RAF will have use of the aircraft when they need them, but the through life risks of ownership will lie with industry. MOD will pay for the provision of the AAR/AT capability on the basis of availability and usage, and payment will only be made when the service is delivered to a satisfactory standard.

We believe that this approach offers a cost effective service without prejudicing operational capability. This will be a true partnership between the RAF and the private sector. The RAF will retain responsibility for all military tasks, whilst the contractor would own, manage and maintain the aircraft and also provide training facilities and some personnel. Because the RAF will not need all of the aircraft in the deal all of the time, the contractor will be able to earn extra revenue by using spare aircraft for commercial operations. However, the RAF would always have first call on all the aircraft in an emergency.

Major Milestones

Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft was nominated as a potential Private Finance Initiative project in 1997. An Assessment Phase, to confirm whether PFI would offer best value for money, was launched following Initial Gate approval in December 2000.

The Assessment Phase confirmed industry’s ability to meet the service requirement, programme timescales and costs and determined that the inclusion of passenger Air Transport capability in the contract will represent value for money. It also clarified the manning and personnel implications. AirTanker Ltd were the successful consortium comprising of EADS, Rolls Royce, Cobham, Thales and VT Group).

Ministers announced on 6 June 2007 that it had been decided to proceed towards financial and contractual close on the FSTA PFI which was achieved on 27 March 2008

The successes so far include the infrastructure building programme at RAF Brize Norton which has transformed a selection of pre-1960 RAF amenities into modern, updated facilities. In mid-November 2008, ATrS completed and handed over these re-provided facilities at RAF Brize Norton which included bulk diesel and waste fuel tanks, air side motor transport parking, wash pan drainage facilities and a petrol, oil and lubricants store.

Training and information systems development work is well underway, with good progress and all contract milestones achieved to programme. The aircraft development programme is also on schedule. On 25 February 2009, the first FSTA wingset was completed at Airbus UK’s Broughton factory and was then loaded onto a Beluga aircraft for the onward journey to Bremen, Germany, for final equipping and then Toulouse, France, for final assembly.

To date the FSTA project has won a total of six industry and MOD awards and is nominated or shortlisted for a further five.
Our solution option
The FSTA solution is based on a derivative of the Airbus A330-200.


FSTA is being acquired via a Private Finance Initiative project, tested against value for money and affordability criteria.

Contract Terms
Terms and conditions are based on the MoD standard PFI terms tailored, where appropriate, to meet the specific requirements of FSTA. The contract has been negotiated on a 27 year basis and includes a specially developed payment mechanism based on availability and usage charges and a service credit regime to incentivise good performance. Prices are linked to output based indices and include a substantial firm element. Opportunities for gainsharing will be sought.

Public / Private Partnerships
FSTA is the largest project in the MoD’s extensive Private Finance Initiative (PFI) programme.


Strategic Context

The Strategic Defence Review highlighted that “the ability to rapidly deploy, sustain and recover our forces is of critical importance if we are to be able to respond quickly to future crises”. This reinforces the continuing need for an air-to-air refuelling capability, which provides force multiplication and operational range enhancement for front-line aircraft across a range of defence roles and military tasks. Air refuelling capability will remain a fundamental UK need for the foreseeable future, both to support the deployment of combat forces to operational theatres and to provide vital support in-theatre.

The FSTA contract covers:

  • Provision of aircraft, spares, Special-to-type Ground Support Equipment and management of Government Furnished Equipment
  • Training of flight crews and all other FSTA personnel
  • Engineering and logistic support
  • Provision of Sponsored Reserve Air and Ground Crew
  • Fleet management.

Support Strategy

FSTA is an innovative PFI programme that will provide an Air-to-Air Refuelling and passenger Air Transport service. The contract will provide a comprehensive and integrated service solution, based on new Airbus A330 aircraft modified to provide Air-to-Air Refuelling capability. It will include provision of purpose designed training and maintenance facilities at RAF Brize Norton, together with through life training and maintenance support services.

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