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The Future of Air-to-Air Refuelling: Advancements in Automated Aerial Refuelling and the Integration of Drones

Aerial refueling, also referred to as air refueling, in-flight refueling (IFR), air-to-air refueling (AAR), and tanking, is the process of transferring aviation fuel from one military aircraft (the tanker) to another (the receiver) during flight. The procedure allows the receiving aircraft to remain airborne longer, extending its range or loiter time on station. A series of air refuelings can give range limited only by crew fatigue and engineering factors such as engine oil consumption.

 

Aerial refueling has also been considered as a means to reduce fuel consumption on long-distance flights greater than 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi). Air-to-air refueling (AAR), can also improving economic efficiency of air transport services  through the use for regional aircraft technology of which can provide the exploitation of these aircraft on long-haul non-stop flights instead of expensive long-haul aircraft.  Potential fuel savings in the range of 35-40% have been estimated for long haul flights (including the fuel used during the tanker missions).

 

Air-to-air refuelling (AAR) stands as one of the key force multiplier which allows projecting military power far beyond their national boundaries. Because the receiver aircraft can be topped up with extra fuel in the air, air refueling can allow a takeoff with a greater payload which could be weapons, cargo, or personnel: the maximum takeoff weight is maintained by carrying less fuel and topping up once airborne. Alternatively, a shorter take-off roll can be achieved because take-off can be at a lighter weight before refueling once airborne.

 

For today’s short combat radius platforms in particular, the growing frequency of sorties flown at ever-longer distances away from carriers or ground bases has increasingly made refuelling an essential mission component. The requirement for AAR is likely to increase in the future as there is a greater requirement for persistence. ISR and C2 assets, for example, are increasingly likely to demand AAR services to enhance situational awareness. The Falklands conflict of 1982 highlighted the necessity for air-to-air refuelling, particularly for the successful prosecution of an air war at long range.

 

Of all air-power force-multipliers, Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) is amongst the most significant. It provides an essential capability that increases the range, endurance, payload and flexibility of all capable receiver aircraft, and is especially important when forward basing is limited or unavailable, or air base operations limitations impose constraints, according to JAPCC, ‘Air-to-Air Refuelling Consolidation: An Update’, March 2014. “To support overseas deployments anywhere in the world at short notice AAR is only becoming more important,” says James Kemmitt, product management director at Cobham Mission Systems – one of the world’s leading refuelling technology suppliers.

 

The future trends to meet the increasingly challenging demands of today include, “These include a wider operating envelope – airspeed, range and altitude – suitability for harsher environments, autonomous operation, lower life cycle costs, increased safety and reliability and reduced maintenance, roll on/roll off capability and compliance to new more stringent airworthiness regulations.”

 

To maximise value for money and provides operational flexibility, new AAR platforms provide multi-mission services that can support combat air, ISR, airborne command-and control (C2) and maritime-patrol missions. The JAPCC paper also recognises the trend towards multi-mission aircraft and notes that tanker transport aircraft may in addition be used for aero-medical and ISR tasks.

 

Primary types of Refuelling technology

There are two primary types of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) systems used in military aircraft: probe-and-drogue and flying boom.

The flying boom system, involves a rigid, telescoping pipe, or boom, that extends from the tanker aircraft. The boom operator on the tanker aircraft maneuvers the boom towards the receiver aircraft, where it is connected to a receptacle on the aircraft. The fuel is then transferred through the boom to the receiver aircraft. This method is often used for larger aircraft, such as cargo planes or bombers, due to its higher fuel transfer rates.

The process of air-to-air refueling involves the tanker aircraft and the receiver aircraft flying in a specific pattern to meet up and transfer fuel. The pilots begin by selecting an “altitude block,” which is pre-designated airspace at a specific altitude where they will fly. The pilots agree on a starting point, end point, and meet-up time.

The tanker aircraft arrives at the altitude block about 15 minutes before the receiver aircraft. Both aircraft then fly in a racetrack pattern, where they continuously circle within the altitude block while waiting for the receiver aircraft to arrive. The receiver aircraft is usually positioned about 1,000 feet below the altitude of the tanker aircraft.

As the receiver aircraft approaches, they decrease the altitude separation until they reach the “astern position,” which is approximately 50 feet behind the tanker aircraft. At this point, the boom operator takes over and directs the receiver aircraft to move closer or further away, up or down, faster or slower, until they are in the optimal position for the boom operator to make contact with the receiving aircraft’s fuel receptacle.

The boom operator has full control over the telescoping pipe, or boom, which extends from the tanker aircraft to the receiver aircraft. The boom can be retracted or extended as needed during the refuelling process. Once the refuelling is complete, the boom operator disconnects the boom. If the receiver aircraft moves off course or there is inclement weather, turbulence, or air traffic, the system will automatically trigger a disconnect for safety reasons.

A slightly easier aerial refueling method is the drogue probe, used on almost all of the Navy and Marine fighter jets. The probe-and-drogue system involves a flexible hose, or drogue, with a parachute on the end that comes out from the tanker aircraft and is trailed behind it. The receiver aircraft, equipped with a probe, extends the probe into the drogue, which transfers the fuel from the tanker to the receiver aircraft. This method is often used for smaller aircraft, such as fighter jets, helicopters, or unmanned aerial vehicles, due to its flexibility and ease of use.

Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. The probe-and-drogue system is more flexible and can be used for a wider range of aircraft, including those with limited maneuverability. It is also less expensive to operate and maintain. However, it has a lower fuel transfer rate and is more susceptible to turbulence and air currents, which can make the refuelling process more challenging.

The flying boom system, on the other hand, has a higher fuel transfer rate and is less susceptible to turbulence and air currents, making it more efficient and reliable. However, it requires a skilled boom operator and can only be used for larger aircraft that can accommodate the receptacle for the boom.

In summary, both probe-and-drogue and flying boom AAR systems are critical capabilities for military aircraft, enabling increased range, endurance, and flexibility. The choice of system depends on the size and type of aircraft involved and the specific mission requirements.

 

In the literature, there have been a variety of computer vision solutions for the aerial refuelling problem. In one technology, the drogue position is estimated using an infrared camera placed in the receiver aircraft and infrared leds placed on the drogue structure. The pose of the drogue is estimated matching the 2D position of the leds with their known 3D positions in the drogue. Synthetic images are used to test the algorithm. On the other hand, a set of beacons mounted on known positions in the drogue are used in. These beacons are detected by a VisNav sensor placed in the receiver aircraft. A communication link between the sensor and the beacons allows the receiver aircraft to triangulate the pose of the drogue with update rates of 100 Hz.

 

For the flying boom refuelling method, a vision system based on deformable contour algorithms was proposed in to obtain relative 3D position estimations. A camera was placed on the tanker aircraft looking down towards the receiver aircraft, capturing images of a passive target painted near the refuelling receptacle. The HSV (hue, saturation, and value) color space was used to increase the robustness under variations in lighting conditions.

 

Synthetic images were used in this case to test the performance of the algorithm. On the other hand, in, the performance of well-known corner detectors (SUSAN and Harris) are analyzed for the docking maneuver involved in the flying boom method. A camera is placed in the receiver aircraft looking upwards, capturing the tanker aircraft. The feature extractor algorithms detect corners of the tanker aircraft, which are matched with a set of known physical features of the tanker. The positions of the matched corners (2D-3D match) are used to evaluate the relative position and orientation of the aircrafts.

 

 

Skyward Connections: Automated Aerial Refueling and Drone Integration

Aerial refuelling aircrafts

The US Air Force’s (USAF) KC-46A Pegasus military aerial refuelling aircraft is  under flight tests from Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) to demonstrate its capability as a receiver aircraft. Though the Pegasus aircraft is used to refuel other jets, it also needs to be refuelled by KC-10 Extenders or KC-135 Stratotankers in order to extend its range.

 

Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is among the most advanced military aerial refuelling and strategic transport aircraft in operation. Developed by Boeing from its 767 jet airliner, the wide-body, multirole tanker can refuel all US, allied and coalition military aircraft, and is also designed to carry passengers, cargo and medical patients. The Pegasus can also detect, avoid, defeat and survive threats using multiple layers of protection.

 

The development of the aerial tanker variant of China’s domestically developed Y-20 large cargo plane is apparently entering the final stages, as a recent photo captured what seems to be a Y-20 tanker variant conducting aerial refueling for a J-20 stealth fighter jet, media reports said. Judging from the photo, the Y-20 aerial tanker was using a hose-and-drogue refueling system, while the J-20 was using a fuel-receiving probe, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times. Now that the Y-20 tanker has made it to the sky and tested its capabilities with the J-20, this type of aerial tanker variant is likely technically mature and can enter test service, Fu said.

 

In February 2020, Teng Hui, commander of an Air Force aviation regiment of the PLA Western Theater Command and Y-20 pilot, said on China Central Television that “The Y-20 cargo plane has variants like the Y-20 aerial tanker and Y-20 aerial early warning aircraft. I believe that people will see our Y-20 aerial tanker debut on the battlefield in the not too distant future.” It is widely expected that the tanker variant of the Y-20 will work together with and eventually replace the PLA’s very few imported Il-78 tankers and the domestically developed but less capable HU-6.

 

Combinations of the Y-20 aerial tanker with the likes of the J-20 fighter jet and H-6N strategic bomber can significantly expand the operational range of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and defend China against military aggression from West Pacific, analysts said in Nov2020. Upon receiving aerial refueling from the Y-20 aerial tanker, the J-20 can extend its range to more than 8,000 kilometers and combat radius to more than 3,000 kilometers, Ordnance Industry Science Technology magazine said, noting that with several refuels, the J-20 can travel more than 10,000 kilometers for intercontinental flights.

 

India joined elite group of countries having an air-to-air refueling system for military planes, in Sep 2018, when the first ever mid-air refueling of Tejas combat aircraft took place. The milestone was achieved at 9.30 am when 1,900 kg of fuel was transferred from the Russian-built IL-78 MKI tmid-air refuelling tanker of IAF  to the Tejas LSP8 at an altitude of 20,000 feet, said a release from HAL, which has developed the light combat aircraft (LCA). Successful ‘dry’ docking of aerial refuelling probe with the mother tanker was carried out on September 4 and 6, he said. HAL officials said in the dry docking no fuel was transferred.

 

The new standard A330 MRTT from Airbus has improved tanker performance and operational efficiency promising a fuel-burn reduction of up to 1%. In addition to the structural and aerodynamic modifications which help achieve the increased fuel efficiency, the new standard A330 MRTT also features upgraded avionics computers and enhanced military systems.

 

It is capable of carrying a maximum payload of 245,000 lb (111,000 kg) of fuel, an additional 99,000 lb (45,000 kg) in non-fuel payload and 291 passengers. The growing number A330 MRTT operators, including Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, France, Spain and RAF.

 

In operations against ISIS over Syria and Iraq a single KC-30A proved capable of tanking a wide variety coalition of assets. These included F/A-18F Super Hornets, other KC-30As (Australian MRTTs are equipped with the UARRSI), E-7A Wedgetails, C-17 Globemaster IIIs, AV-8B Harriers, Eurofighter Typhoons and Dassault Rafales. The flexibility of the KC-30A was demonstrated when in November 2015 a Boeing E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft performed its longest mission over Iraq lasting 17 hours and 6 minutes requiring two aerial refuellings.

 

The significant role of composite materials in aerial refueling.

Today, most modern aircraft comprise lightweight composite materials that increase the efficiency and durability of aircraft.

These composite materials, which combine two or more materials to exhibit exceptional properties, are integral to enhancing the efficiency and durability of aircraft. The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial tanker, designed for military missions, utilizes specialized composites in its structure, thereby improving its mission performance.

The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is a military aerial refueling and transport aircraft with advanced features and capabilities. It incorporates carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), a composite material consisting of microscopic carbon fibers and plastic resin. This combination provides the required mechanical and thermal properties while reducing weight and increasing resistance to corrosion compared to traditional metals like aluminum and iron.

 

Future Trends

  • The development of unmanned aerial refueling (UAR) systems: UAR systems use drones to refuel other aircraft in flight. This could revolutionize aerial refueling by making it possible to refuel aircraft in dangerous or remote areas where it would be too risky to use manned aircraft.
  • The development of directed-energy refueling (DER) systems: DER systems use lasers to transfer fuel from one aircraft to another. This could make aerial refueling more efficient and safer, and it could also make it possible to refuel aircraft that are currently not capable of being refueled in flight.
  • The development of new refueling technologies: Researchers are constantly developing new technologies that could improve aerial refueling. Some of these technologies include:
    • Self-aligning refueling systems: These systems would automatically align the refueling probe and drogue, making it easier for pilots to complete the refueling process.
    • Reactive refueling systems: These systems would automatically adjust the flow of fuel based on the needs of the receiver aircraft.
    • In-flight refueling for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): This would allow UAVs to stay in the air for longer periods of time, which would expand their range and capabilities.

These are just a few of the recent advancements in aerial refueling. As technology continues to develop, it is likely that we will see even more improvements in the future.

 

Increasing threat

Specific to the air environment, the proliferation of advanced air- and ballistic defence capabilities; man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS), are also increasingly available to insurgent groups. These threats make life difficult for the crews who fly the tanker aircraft.

 

Writing in a Brookings Institution Policy Paper back in 2014, US Navy Commander Gregory D. Knepper warned that the vast ranges predicted for future operations in contested airspaces risked turning AAR into a new strategic vulnerability and making airborne tankers into prized targets.

 

Adding ISR capabilities to tanker aircraft

Looking beyond their main purpose, Kemmitt believes that to be effective in the coming conflicts, assets will need to be multi-functional and he sees tomorrow’s tankers doubling-up as flying sensor suites and data relay hubs in an increasingly networked battlespace.

 

Adding such intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities is another area that Airbus has already started to explore. The spokesman says that the company has been looking at bringing the likes of signals intelligence or airborne ground surveillance to the A330 MRTT platform, to allow it to perform simultaneous ISR tasks during a single mission, without affecting the aircraft’s primary role. Additional communication systems for the aircraft are also under consideration, as well as equipping it with appropriate sensors and a mission system.

 

Automated refuelling technology

Automated aerial refueling (AAR) refers to methods for autonomous refueling of manned and unmanned aircraft.

 

Automated aerial refuelling (AAR) refers to the process of autonomously refuelling both manned and unmanned aircraft, without the need for human intervention. This technology is currently being developed and tested by various aerospace companies and military organizations around the world.

AAR systems are designed to improve the efficiency and safety of aerial refuelling operations, reducing the risk of accidents and increasing the effectiveness of military missions. These systems can be used for both manned and unmanned aircraft, allowing for greater flexibility and versatility in mission planning.

Automated aerial refuelling systems use a variety of technologies, including computer vision, advanced sensors, and artificial intelligence algorithms to detect and track the receiving aircraft, and to accurately guide the fuel nozzle into the receiving aircraft’s refuelling port. Some systems use a robotic arm or boom to connect to the receiving aircraft, while others use a flexible hose with a refuelling probe and drogue.

One of the main advantages of AAR is that it can reduce the risk of accidents during refuelling operations, as it eliminates the need for human pilots to make precise and difficult manoeuvres while connecting the fuel nozzle to the receiving aircraft. This can improve safety and reduce the risk of damage to both aircraft.

In addition to improving safety, AAR can also increase the speed and efficiency of aerial refuelling operations, allowing aircraft to stay in the air longer and complete missions more effectively. This can be particularly important for military operations, where time is often critical and the ability to quickly refuel aircraft can be a key advantage.

Overall, automated aerial refuelling is a rapidly evolving technology that has the potential to transform the way aerial refuelling is conducted. As the technology continues to develop and mature, it is likely that we will see more and more applications of AAR in both military and civilian contexts.

 

An Air Force Research Laboratory program was started in 2004 at the AFRL Air Vehicles Directorate. The initial program was the evaluation of technologies that could be used for AAR. The key new concept is the use of precision GPS. The AAR program has since held several flight tests. The important factors were the software and communication systems that kept the aircraft at the proper altitude and speed.

 

In 2007, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with the help of NASA, demonstrated automatic refuelling from a conventional tanker by a high-performance aircraft. A pilot was on board to supervise, so the demonstration was not entirely automated. It served as the basis for DARPA’s Autonomous High-Altitude Refueling program which, in 2012, demonstrated the potential for fully autonomous aerial refueling of unmanned air vehicles. The final test involved modified RQ-4 drones flying in close formation less than 100 ft from a tanker, close enough for refueling to take place

 

During aerial refuelling manoeuvres the tanker and receiver aircraft need to fly very close to each other and this close proximity induces a very significant aerodynamic interaction between them. Flying fast-moving aircraft together in the close proximity required for refuelling, and not infrequently in a turn to ensure the tanker can hold on station, is always a potentially dangerous undertaking.

 

To help reduce the associated risk while also minimising contact time, improving operational efficiency and reducing operator workload, Airbus has begun flight trials of automatic refuelling technology. Aimed to enable the automation of AAR boom contacts, it requires no additional equipment in the receiver aircraft and uses imaging technology to detect the position of the receiver and its receptacle.

 

“The receiver approach to the tanker is performed manually, as is the initial tracking of the receiver by the boomer,” the Airbus spokesman explains. “The imaging system acquires the receiver and the receptacle position, and the boomer can then accept the system aid while manually extending the telescopic part of the boom and making and maintaining contact.”

 

He says that proximity trials have already been conducted, and contact trials are planned for the near future.

 

Future Air Refuelling by the drones

The MQ-25 Stingray is an unmanned aerial refueling tanker (UAV) under development by Boeing for the United States Navy. The MQ-25 is designed to refuel Navy fighter jets and other aircraft in flight, extending their range and endurance. The MQ-25 is expected to enter service in the mid-2020s.

 

In September 2021, Boeing successfully completed the first test flight of its MQ-25 Stingray test asset with an aerial refueling store (ARS) on board. The program is now in the final phase of development, with the Navy expected to take delivery of the first operational MQ-25 in 2024. The UMCS and CCS software architecture are critical components of the program, and several defense contractors including Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin have been awarded contracts. The total budget for the MQ-25 program is approximately $13 billion.

 

Airbus has conducted successful test flights of its autonomous refueling drone, the A3R, which can refuel a fighter jet in mid-air. The A3R has a capacity of 1,200 liters of fuel and can operate at a distance of up to 100 km from the tanker aircraft. Airbus sees significant potential for the use of autonomous refueling technology in both military and civilian aviation, including for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and commercial airliners.

 

Airbus has been developing an Autonomous Aerial Refueling (A3R) system, which involves using an unmanned aircraft to refuel a manned receiver aircraft. In a recent test flight, an Airbus A330 MRTT tanker aircraft successfully transferred fuel to a C295W transport aircraft, both of which were flown by pilots. The A330 MRTT was equipped with an A3R system, while the C295W was fitted with a drogue system to receive fuel. The two aircraft were flown in formation, and the A3R system automatically connected the refueling boom to the drogue basket on the C295W. The test flight demonstrated the potential for autonomous refueling technology to increase the safety, efficiency, and flexibility of aerial refueling operations. Airbus believes that the A3R system could be used not only for military refueling but also for civilian applications such as aerial firefighting and search and rescue operations.

 

Defensive Aid Suites

Defensive Aid Suites (DAS) are systems designed to protect aircraft from various threats, including missiles, radar, and other hostile actions. These systems are becoming increasingly important for military support platforms, particularly those involved in aerial refueling. With the growing prevalence of high-threat environments, stealth is becoming essential for air forces to maintain freedom of action.

New AAR platforms are designed to provide multi-mission services, including combat air support, ISR, airborne command-and-control (C2), and maritime-patrol missions. This maximizes value for money and provides operational flexibility. Additionally, tanker transport aircraft may also be used for aero-medical and ISR tasks, adding to their already multi-role capabilities.

As the need for in-theatre support for receiver aircraft grows, future tankers will potentially need to be stealthy to avoid detection and have comprehensive defensive aids. However, adding additional capabilities always comes at a cost, and no aircraft can be in two places at once.

Incorporating low-observable features and a disguised radar signature could enable future AAR platforms to safely follow stealthy fighters far into the anti-access, area-denial battlespaces of tomorrow. This may lead to a shift away from commercially derived aircraft towards a flying wing design, with high levels of automation bringing enhanced mission capabilities.

 

Defensive aid suites will therefore be increasingly important for military support platforms, while stealth is fast becoming a pre-requisite for air forces wishing to maintain freedom of action in a high-threat environment.

 

European AT/AAR assets are already multi-role platforms typically employed in a transport role during peacetime and as an AAR platform during crises. Further capabilities might be squeezed from AT/AAR platforms by adding ISR sensors to provide additional intelligence while the platforms loiter above the battlespace. However, this must not compromise operational effectiveness. Additional functions always come at a cost, and no aircraft can be in two places at once.As Kemmitt explains, “future tankers will potentially need to provide in-theatre support to the receiver aircraft, meaning that they will have to be stealthy to avoid detection as well as having comprehensive defensive aids.”

 

It could, it seems, see a major step-change in approach, perhaps even moving away entirely from the established commercially derived aircraft that form the mainstay of AAR today, towards the likes of a flying wing design. Incorporating low-observable features and a disguised radar signature would then enable it to follow state-of-the-art stealthy fighters safely far into the anti-access, area-denial battlespaces of tomorrow, with high levels of automation bringing enhanced mission capabilities too.

 

Aviation Refueler Market

The air-to-air refueling market is projected to grow from USD 619.26 Million in 2022 to USD 995.23 Million by 2027 registering a CAGR of 10.0% during the forecast period. The increasing instances of overseas deployment of military aircraft has been one of the main reasons for the rising demand for air-to-air refueling technologies and has encouraged the adoption of aircraft equipped with such capability, both from the donor and recipient point of view.

Aviation refuelers are intended for safe and efficient airliner refilling at any location, relocating fuel into aircraft through metering systems, filter and pump. Its proven strategies integrate novelty combined with industry standard compliance and components to international standards. The modular borders or frames are steel welded arrangements which are hot-dip electrified before pumping gear, filters and meters are fitted. All components and schemes are intended to exploit machineries and heaviness surrounded by the space given to ease prefabrication and tranquil transmission of the pumping gear or module to alternative truck if essential.

 

Market Dynamics

Constant escalation in aviation sector coupled with affordable flight availability in emerging economies; owing to new market player entrants are driving the market growth majorly. Increasing number of flights everyday is raising the fuel requirement which eventually is augmenting the aviation refueler market. Thus, for smooth operational activities of flight in the forecast period, the need for aviation refueler is expected to escalate the market growth.

 

Restraint: Vulnerability against ground-based attacks

Large tanker aircraft, which serve as the source of fuel for air-to-air refueling operations, lack
maneuverability and hence can be easily targeted by ground-based air defense systems. Though
these aircraft are equipped with certain countermeasures such as flares, the large size of such
aircraft render them susceptible to enemy fire, especially to ballistic missiles which can change its
orientation and course according to its target. Furthermore, tanker aircraft are very heavy and slow moving as compared to the recipient aircraft, hence they may be vulnerable to enemy fire during an air-to-air refueling procedure, as both the donor and the recipient aircraft are required to maintain a certain speed and heading for the system to attach and transfer fuel. Such vulnerabilities restrict the use of such resources in highly contested spaces.

 

Opportunity: Development of autonomous refueling systems

The goal of autonomous refueling is to integrate manned and unmanned operations seamlessly.
Hence, Automated Air-to-Air Refueling (A3R) will be designed to utilize the existing standardized
voice command and control (C2) messages and procedures that are translated into data link
messages that the UAV’s computer can process. According to the US Joint Air Power Competence
Centre (JAPCC), A3R procedures will be developed to accommodate current manned AAR standards and procedures. In the case of UAVs, they can safely maintain flight and execute a maneuver by selecting a pre-defined action without supervision. In manned aircraft, capabilities to perform automated refueling are included, wherein the engagement process is expected to be an automated task, and the pilot would only monitor (safety observer). Currently, A3R is at its conceptual stage and various developments are carried out to introduce it in the market. However, for A3R to become a reality, more sophisticated control systems must be developed, including relative positioning systems, data link systems, and remote aerial vehicle operators.

Challenge: High installation and maintenance cost

Though air-to-air refueling is a technology aspired by several countries, the associated high-cost of installation and maintenance of a Multipoint Refueling System (MPRS) restricts its widespread
adoption. Currently, a MPRS costs around USD 5 to 7 million per aircraft and accounts for around
5,000 to 7,000 labor hours. The average life of an air-to-air refueling tanker is 40-60 years, along with periodic maintenance and sizeable investment to maintain the tanker throughout its life. Further, when this tanker starts aging, the possibility of corrosion and material degradation sets in, thus increasing its maintenance costs. For instance, the US DoD decided to retire a part of its fleet of KC135 aircraft due to increasing material degradation and maintenance costs. Technical expertise is also required to use and maintain the proper functioning of aerial refueling systems and ensure effective integration of system components. Highly skilled personnel are required to perform aerial refuelling operations

 

Market Classification

The market can be bifurcated on the basis of product, end user and geography. By product, aviation refueler market can be segmented into 1,000 gallon, 3,000 gallon, 5,000 gallon, 7,000 gallon and 10,000 gallon. By end user, aviation refueler market can be segmented into civil aircraft and military aircraft. On the basis of geography, the aviation refueler market can be segmented into North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East & Africa (MEA) and Asia-Pacific.

 

 

Market Segmentation

Market By Product: 1,000 Gallon, 3,000 Gallon, 5,000 Gallon, 7,000 Gallon, and 10,000 Gallon
Market By End User: Civil Aircraft, Military Aircraft,

Market By Geography: North America: U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe: UK, France, Germany, Rest of Europe, Asia-Pacific: China, Japan,
India, Australia, Rest of Asia-Pacific, Latin America: Brazil, Rest of LATAM, Middle East and Africa (MEA): South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Rest of MEA

 

Based on component, the fuel tank segment dominated market share throughout the forecast
period

Based on component, the air-to-air refueling market is segmented into pumps, valves, nozzles,
hoses, boom, probes, pods, fuel tanks, and others. The growth of the fuel-tank segment of the market can be attributed to the enhanced investment towards the procurement of tanker aircraft that are designed to supply fuel to receiver aircraft platforms by several nations across the globe, including the US, UK, France, etc.

Based on system, the boom refueling segment is projected to witness fastest growth by 2027

Based on system, the air-to-air refueling market is segmented into probe & drogue, boom refueling, and autonomous. The boom refueling segment is projected to lead market share as most current generation tanker aircraft use boom refueling systems for transferring fuel to receiver aircraft. Since the boom is rigid, it is capable of a higher transfer rate as compared to probe and drogue, thereby favoring its integration in most leading tanker aircraft models.

Based on aircraft type, the fixed wing segment held the leading market share in 2022

Based on aircraft type, the air-to-air refueling market is segmented into fixed wing and rotary wing. The higher induction of fixed wing aircraft, including combat and specal mission aircraft, is anticipated to drive the fixed wing segment of the market. The development of new extended range variant of such aircraft with air-to-air refueling capability greatly enhances the strike capabilities of nations, therby driving their procurement.

Based on type, the manned segment held the leading market share in 2022

Based on type, the air-to-air refueling market is segmented into manned and unmanned aircraft.
Though there is rapid induction of UAVs for a plethora of missions, they do not possess the
necessary capability for air-to-air refueling due to size, weight, and power (SWaP) constraints which hampers their payload capacity. Thus, the manned aircraft segment is expected to dominate market share during the forecast period.

Based on end user, the linefit segment accounts for the largest market size during the forecast period

Based on the end user, the air-to-air refueling market is segmented into OEM and aftermarket. The OEM segment is forecasted to dominate market share as new models of most military aircraft are being made available with air-to-air refueling capability as a standard fitment. However, there is also scope for modernizing older aircraft with such capabilities using aftermarket kits, however, the feasibility of such an upgrade is limited

 

Significant players or competitors taking part in the worldwide Aviation Refueler market are:

Cobham plc (UK), Eaton Corporation (US), Airbus (Netherlands), Boeing (US), and GE Aviation (US), Esterer GmbH, SkyMark, Garsite, HP Products, Aviationpros, Rampmaster, Refuel International, Westmor Industries, CSPT, JungWoo Tank, Etsy, and Rampmaster

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1207114.shtml

https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/air-to-air-refueling-market-233525223.html

 

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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