Military Aviation > Air Power

Are aerial refuelling tankers peace time aircraft?

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One thing that stood out to me after reading the post ' Naval air operations in Afghanistan" was the reliance placed upon aerial refuelling tankers by a modern air force.
In the article, it talks of many tankers waiting around on the fringes of an operations area and the need for fighter bombers to refuel every two hours.
Now to me, this is all very well if you have total air superiority like in Iraq or in anti terrorist wars like Afghanistan or even small police action wars like Bosnia. But what if it comes to a real shooting war against a powerful adversary like say Russia or China? The most vulnerable aircraft would be the tankers.
Any enemy would know that to take out the tankers would mean to take out most of the fighter/bomber opposition.
I therefore put aerial refuelling tanker aircraft in the same category as aircraft carriers. They are peace time weapons restricted to small wars and police actions..

Combat Air Patrols can guard large piece of sky, together with AWACS, they can still ensure air dominance up until a certain range from enemy installations, then you can safely use tankers behind them. Moscow or Beijng aren't that far from friendly, well defended airspace. 2 hrs of fuel will take you a long way, and then they won't be running empty, there's a lot of reserve. Forward operating bases will be more important in such conflicts for close air support as well as carriers, because you can't have jets on station all the time. You won't have fighter bombers in the skies all the time like in Iraq/Afghanistan, the fighterbomber will fly in and out. But before it goes in and on return leg, once in safe airspace, they still need the tanker. Taking off with a full load takes a lot of fuel, so once up they need to refuel to extend their range to the target and be able to make it back, even if they have to burn up a lot fuel to do evasive actions.

Unless you want to call everything peace time weapons, except ICBMs and nuclear submarines then no, they are not peace time capabilities and would still serve a major role in bigger wars. If Hitler had tankers, he would have bombed the US. And also the carriers, they don't have to be close to the coast and are well defended. USN also uses the Super Hornet as tanker, which can accompany the strike package up until a certain point and return when it has refuelled them. Su-24 and Tornado (Luftwaffe) also do buddy refueling.

Also, they would be needed to extend the range of the strategic bombers across the globe, so it can fly from Russia to close enough to the US, or from US to China. So those real 'wartime weapons' could still use tankers.

And your picture shows another point, when you have deployed forces, you need to keep the logistics line in shape, ships are slow. Strategic transports need to be refuelled as well to extend their range.

I wouldn´t say better Webby.

Just think about the conflicts were tankers were used and in which the airspace wasn´t all that friendly, and you´ll see that they are far from being peace time equipment.

I would like to add just another thing to what Webby said, the Su-33 and the new Su-35 can also use special equipment to do buddy refueling.

OK there are two points you make that I will answer and undaunted Aviator presses on with his limited knowledge.

Firstly Russia is as you say almost friendly but Iran and Korea and the latent war with them by the West aren't.
If  the West has to take out these threats to world peace, guess whose anti aircraft weaponry they will have to dodge. Russia arming our enemies makes Russia an enemy by proxy.
Almost friendly China is another matter. They are a potential enemy of the future to all of us including Australia. China wants more than it has and intends to get it or try to. There is also the real Taiwan factor that America intends to fight over.

Secondly you miss my point. Of course America will go to war with tankers. Of course they would go to war with aircraft carriers. The war planning would revolve around these two assets plus one other that isn't as vulnerable.[Nuclear submarines]
But both the former will be blasted out of the water and sky in a modern shooting war.
When I say that they are peacetime weapons it is a figure of speech. Only in peacetime are they completely safe because the enemies of the moment don't have the capabilities to do anything about them.

About your first reply, my point was not that they are friendly now, my point is that you can strike them from nearby locations keeping the tankers in friendly airspace, out of harms way. Yes, they'll be vulnerable assets, but what isn't in a total war with a modern, well-equipped enemy. I wouldn't call them peace time weapons.

And for the second, okay got it, but you said they were thus restricted to small wars and police actions. That isn't true. But I see now you mean their safety and thus availability is not as unrestricted in war as in small wars and police actions. But I wouldn't use the term peace time weapons for that reason, to me those are weapons/capabilities that really serve no purpose or have little to no effect in a real war, for example those sensor equipped Cessna's, non-lethal weapons, etc. Otherwise you can call almost every that.

Actually you can even call the nuclear capabilities peace time weapons, as they have their greatest value in peace time serving as a deterrence...


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