France, Germany and the Netherlands agreed Wednesday to team up in order to boost Europe’s fleet of air-to-air refueling aircraft, a key shortcoming identified by last year’s NATO operation in Libya.
The three nations announced that they would lead efforts to share existing planes or acquire new ones, such as the Airbus 330 MRTT, hoping to boost their capacity in this field by 2020. France plans to buy 14 planes.
The announcement was made at a meeting of NATO defence and foreign ministers to lay the groundwork for a summit of leaders in Chicago next month, which will partly focus on maintaining military capacities at a time of austerity.
The three nations said in a joint statement that they were “strongly and firmly committed” to this project and were ready to lead the way with the backing of the European Defence Agency, a European Union body.
“The initiative was launched by three nations but they are open to all European nations. There is a real interest in their part,” French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet told reporters.
Only six European nations own 42 air refueling tankers of seven different models, making it difficult to share them.
During the seven-month air campaign, European nations and Canada conducted most bombing missions but they relied heavily on the United States, which provided 80 percent of refueling aircraft.
Fighter jets needed to refuel once or twice per mission over Libya.
In a separate announcement, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands said they would deepen their own military cooperation and identified promising fields including logistics, maintenance, training, and acquisition of equipment.