COLOGNE, Germany – A group of six European NATO nations next month will take delivery of the first two of eight Airbus A330 aircraft suitable for aerial refueling and transport missions, the alliance announced.

The MFF program, short for Multinational Multi-Role Tanker and Transport Fleet, is one of only a few examples of select NATO nations jointly owning and operating equipment. The first aircraft are slated to arrive in the Netherlands at the main operating base in Eindhoven in June following “a limited delay” over the original schedule, according to a statement.

The NATO Support and Procurement Agency manages the program on behalf of member nations Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands. The six nations share the cost of buying the planes as well as flying hours used for missions.

The Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft are destined mainly to bolster the aerial-refueling capabilities of participating air forces, which is key to extending the operating radius of their fighter fleets. The tanker can refuel F-16, F-35, Eurofighter, Tornado and Gripen jets, as well as “most of the other” aircraft used by the alliance, including C-17 cargo planes, the NATO statement reads.

Nations can also operate the tankers in a cargo, passenger or medical-evacuation configuration.

According to a memorandum of understanding governing the aircraft's use, Germany has booked up to 5,500 flying hours per year, followed by the Netherlands (2,000), Belgium (1,000) Luxembourg (200), and Norway and the Czech Republic with 100 each.

Besides Eindhoven as the main base hosting five of the envisioned eight total aircraft, the German city of Cologne is slated to host three.

NATO officials have touted the capability to ferry cargo among nations here as key to fighting the coronavirus epidemic. Member nations have repeatedly organized flights to deliver medical equipment, for example, to help each other out.

In alliance parlance, the increased transportation muscle provided by the MFF program goes to the heart of what officials have called NATO’s “resilience” in the face of crises. To that end, officials have begun an examination of how the pact’s military assets can help civil authorities absorb the kinds of shocks brought by the coronavirus.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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