The A330 SMART MRTT program is created with the aim of developing Automatic Air-to-Air refueling (A3R) capability, which would reduce the role of the air refueling operator (ARO) to monitoring the operation rather than carrying it out. 

“Once the A3R system is activated by the ARO, the Boom Flight Control System becomes fully automated and progresses to transfer fuel upon contact with the receiver,” according to Airbus Defence and Space. “In the event of an anomaly due to receiver stability deviations or malfunctions on the tanker, the A3R system is able to disconnect and/or clear the Boom away from the receiver safely.”

In April 2020, a flight test campaign carried out over the Atlantic Ocean involved an A330 MRTT tanker test aircraft equipped with the Airbus “A3R” system, and an F-16 fighter jet from the Portuguese Air Force acting as a receiver. The campaign totaled 45 hours of flight tests and 120 dry contacts with the A3R system. According to the manufacturer, it was the world’s first automated in-flight aircraft refueling. 

In February 2020, Airbus and Singapore have agreed to collaborate on the development of the A330 SMART MRTT for the Republic of Singapore Air Force. 

The A330 MRTT is ​​a multirole aircraft, both a tanker and a carrier (freight and passengers), based on the A330 airframe. 

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Airbus refueled a Portuguese F-16 in flight using a fully automated procedure. It is the world’s first automated in-flight aircraft refueling, according to the manufacturer.