BRINGING TOGETHER THE GLOBAL AERIAL REFUELING COMMUNITY
Somewhere near the Straits of Malacca, South of Malaysia, in the not-too-distant future….six B-52H’s on non-stop deployment from Barksdale AFB, LA to Diego Garcia, Indian Ocean, slowly close the rendezvous for aerial refueling with the six KC-10A Tankers deployed from Travis to Guam to support the last leg of their journey. Little do the bomber crews realize their KC-10s have recently completed their own receiver air refueling from four RAAF KC-30s,
enabling the USAF to deploy only the six KC-10s, rather than the normal nine from the West Coast of the USA! Simultaneously, a flow of numerous KC- 46As, flying non-stop from the US supporting an AEF movement Eastbound are refueled by a continuous surge of Italian KC-767s, flying out of Italy, to support the non-stop deployment of fighter and tanker aircraft to the Middle East. The three tanker types, some produced in different eras by different manufacturers from different nations, are fully compatible. The same is true for the fighter aircraft. While the booms can be different in size and shape, the boom diameter, nozzles and receptacles are all built to common sets of specifications that are examined and shaped at ARSAG. The same is true for probe/drogue refueling, commonly used by the US Navy, Special Operations and allied aircraft. These standards and specifications, along with guidance documents and recommended technical requirements are developed and up-dated by ARSAG International, and have resulted in the technical interface and operational interoperability we enjoy today.
At ARSAG, offload rates and delivery pressure regulation are analyzed and standardized to insure a compatible interface. The aircrew procedures for all the receivers and tankers, straight from ARSAG’s latest revision of ATP-56 (now NATO document 22.214.171.124) insure all aircrew understand and expect the same procedures, radio calls, emergency procedures and formations.
This scenario is possible today with one exception .the clearances between nations to certify aerial refueling between
the different types of interoperable aircraft from different countries are yet to be formally set in place. The processes, procedures, specifications and hardware must be compatible. ARSAG is doing its part in making certifications possible with the completion of an ARSAG document, sent to NATO for adoption that sets the standards for international certification of receivers behind tankers. This new draft NATO document is out to the NATO nations now for ratification.
What has made this interoperability and standardization possible? Teamwork! Teamwork seldom experienced in our modern world. Four to six times a year engineers from industry (major manufacturers, engine manufacturers and suppliers), tanker and receiver crews and maintainers from over 20 nations, and representatives from USTRANSCOM, AMC, AFLC/AFLCMC and international / treaty organizations meet in working groups to solve problems and standardize the processes and equipment necessary to enhance the safety and reliability of the aerial refueling enterprise. It may be the only place you see Boeing, AIRBUS and system hardware engineers working side-by-side with military technical experts to ensure the products they produce work for the allied war fighters! This entire enterprise is the sole function and focus of ARSAG International.
Under the guidance of its 17-member international Board of Directors from industry and retired military members, this non-profit entity serves as the US Joint Standardization Board, chartered by the US Department of Defense, for all matters pertaining to aerial refueling systems.
Once per year, normally in April, the entire forum meets for the ARSAG International Annual Meeting, where all gather to review the year’s work, hear from industry and military leaders, and chart the goals for the next year’s activities. Under the expert leadership of Mr. Dexter Kalt, the ARSAG Executive Director and founder, the working groups brief their progress and chart their path forward. With engaging participation from over 20 nations and international organizations such as NATO/JAPCC, EDA, EATC, and MCCE the annual meeting is a clear indicator the ARSAG International forum is a tremendous opportunity for all participants. IT WORKS!
These meetings are held three times during the year. They offer members of the aerial refueling community opportunities to pool their expertise and for their voices to be heard in seven dedicated concurrent Working Group Sessions.
Citing the accomplishments of the ARSAG Workshop/JSB, Dex Kalt has said, “The Workshop leaders and participants include aerospace engineers and operators from industry and military organizations worldwide - the best assemblage of technical expertise and practical experience to work on ARSAG’s aerial refueling documents. These documents not only impact current aerial refueling operations, but also insure that mistakes of the past are avoided and that future operations benefit from their guidance.”
ARSAG WORKING GROUPS
1. Boom/Receptacle Components & Verification Methods
2. Probe/Drogue Components & Verification Methods
3. Formation Aids, Markings and Lighting
4. Maintenance and Ground Support Equipment
5. Clearance Processes and Procedures
5A. Automated Aerial Refueling
6. Systems Requirements & Verification Methods
While interoperability and standardization have made tremendous strides in recent years, international expansion of the aerial refueling community provides an escalation in opportunity for the future. Although the art of aerial refueling has been with us for almost 100 years, it is no longer a US-only capability; coalition operations offer their own challenges. The US and international aerial refueling community is still learning to implement standardized procedures ensuring technical and operational compatibility, minimize crew training/currency, minimize maintenance, and to streamline fiscal/legal arrangements between tanker and receiver operators.
Identified this shortfall in orderly aerial refueling clearance procedures and began addressing the issue. ARSAG launched the effort for standardizing the aerial refueling request initiation process, defining key minimum aerial refueling interface data, and ensuring a coordinated overall aerial refueling clearance process. ARSAG holds a unique position. It has developed the mechanism, the Standardized Technical Data Survey (STDS), to collect the vital interface data that is necessary to demonstrate aerial refueling compatibility and complete the clearance process. Tom Swiderek, ARSAG Lead, Clearance Processes and Procedures Working Group, completed the ARSAG International document, “Aerial Refueling Clearance Process Guide” and its accompanying “Aerial Refueling Tanker / Receiver Clearance Compatibility Assessment Checklist” which now are in NATO coordination explains: “We have more than one hundred individuals from around the world participate in the development of these documents. A think-tank of two or three individuals could have written excellent documents on these subjects, but the challenge would have been to get all the key players around the world to agree. So we brought in the key players!” He went on to say, “In a multi-national environment, there needs to be a judicious blend of compromise when developing recommendations for multi-national standards and ARSAG is the perfect forum.” This is a giant step forward, and many nations are already using drafts of this document, awaiting final approval.
Chartered more than 37 years ago, ARSAG has evolved from a Strategic Air Command entity to the realities of today’s military and industry work environments. Streamlined meetings are supplemented by newsletters, bulletins and the ARSAG International web-site, www.arsaginc.com, as means of exchanging aerial refueling information. Teleconferences and webinars between working group meetings allow the groups to complete their vital projects more quickly.
The nature of aerial refueling, two aircraft connecting in flight and becoming one system between two aircraft, demand the need for communication, exchanges of information, and cooperation as we move deeper into the world of coalition operations. With many nations now procuring their own tanker aircraft from several manufacturers, the opportunities to expand capability and husband resources demand that ARSAG International continue to provide the forum for interoperability and standardization.
Lieutenant General John B. Sams, Jr. USAF ret.
ARSAG Board Chairman, Chief Operating Officer