Why The RAF Voyager Is So Important To Operations
The RAF Voyager MRTT aircraft are often seen contributing to British operations all over the world. However, it is often overlooked & doesn’t get the credit the aircraft deserves. It is such a core component to the UK's defense so I wanted to shed some light on the aircraft and the roles it carries out to showcase just how important the aircraft is to operations.
About The Voyager:
The Voyager is used for transport and aerial refueling. The aerial refueling role is one of the most important and often the role you will see the aircraft doing the most. The RAF operates two variants of the aircraft the KC2 & KC3. The KC2 variant is equipped with two pods for use in refueling fast jets and the KC3 has a centerline hose which is designed for refueling larger aircraft in service with the RAF or allied nations. The aircraft is based off the Airbus A330 and is now in service with multiple nations such as Australia, France, Saudi Arabia, UAE & Singapore. The aircraft was ordered by the to replace the previous tanker fleet of VC-10 & Tri-Star aircraft. As of 2016, all 14 aircraft have been delivered to the RAF. When the aircraft is not conducting AAR operations it can carry 291 personnel and freight to anywhere the RAF need it to go. One of the core roles of the aircraft that is demonstrated when it has been operating on QRA missions and refueling operations over Syria & Iraq is operating a towline allowing the tanker to operate in a designated area waiting for aircraft to come and take on fuel before continuing their mission. As stated before the aircraft can deliver 291 personal into theatre given the aircraft is equipped with a defensive suite according to the RAF. The voyagers can contribute to RAF cargo movements if the aircraft is required as transport pallets and bulk forms of freight. An additional point about the aircraft is the ability to be used in a medical role. If troops are required to fly out of operations for medical reasons the aircraft can be configured to carry 40 stretches and 3 critical care patients. One aircraft in recent times has been configured to act as a VIP aircraft for important figures in the UK such as the Prime Minister.
The RAF QRA process is made up of having a voyager on standby 24/7 365 days of the year to contribute to the RAF QRA mission. During the scrambling of aircraft, a voyager is sent from RAF Brize Norton to assist the typhoons in their operation. The aircraft will operate in a towline operating around an area close to the RAF typhoons allowing them to stay on station until the situation is over. A voyager is also permanently based at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falklands to ensure even the far corners of UK airspace are protected
In recent times this has been one of the RAFs biggest operations. Based on RAF Akrotiri the RAF have a voyager stationed to refuel the Typhoons previously Tornados striking ISIS targets in Iraq & Syria. Once again the voyager deploys a towline in these missions. During operations in these regions, the RAF voyager takes two separate routes the most common route is over Israel & Jordan, now and then the voyager goes into theatre via Turkey. The voyager contribution has become vital in ensuring the RAF Typhoons have been able to carry out the number of missions they have. This combination of Typhoon and Voyager aircraft has led to the RAF becoming one of the biggest contributors to the coalition's mission.
The Voyager aircraft have proved themselves to act as a vital link between UK overseas bases & any deployments that are undertaken by UK forces. One of the largest and most important air bridges the voyagers are part of is the link to the Falklands Islands. Given that the UK stations plenty of forces down in the Falklands this makes it one of the hardest places to deliver troops and supplies, simply due to the distance it is from the UK. The voyager ensures UK forces, personal and any supplies can reach the Islands via air. Although the route has had to be changed from the regular stop at RAF Accession. With the runway being in a state of disrepair tankers have been spotted stopping at Cape Verde, West Africa & very occasional Uruguay. This has just further demonstrated the reach of a voyager aircraft being able to successfully complete its mission regardless of the changes in circumstances. The voyagers also conduct regular air bridge support mission to RAF Akrotiri. This flight has been seen often arriving ever since the UK initiated airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria & Iraq ensuring that personnel can be delivered that is critical to the success of the mission. Lately, the aircraft has been flying to Estonia as the UK is currently contributing to the NATO air policing mission. The aircraft also fly into Calgary Canada to support UK training & the UAE to support UK personal based at Al Udeid Air Base.
Lately, the Voyagers have been involved in two very special missions. The first being something which we are starting to see more often & that is the delivery of F-35 jets to the UK from the USA. This shows the interoperability of multiple voyager tankers with multiple aircraft. Due to the sheer distance from South Carolina to RAF Marham, multiple voyagers have been required to support their arrival. In total 3 voyagers were involved in the operation, 1 out of the USA before meeting up with 2 out of Canada. Lately, the voyagers have been sent to support the Red Arrows on their North American tour.
I wrote this article because I wanted to showcase the reach of voyager tanker once of the most overlooked aircraft & to highlight how important it is to UK operations around the world.