An Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) Phénix of the French Air and Space Force (Armée de l'Air et de l’Espace) refueled a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for the very first time, a sign that military ties are warming between the two countries since the submarine row of 2021. 

The refueling was part of Exercise Pitch Black at the RAAF Base in Darwin, where staff of the the French Air Force are visiting with three Dassault Rafale fighters, one Airbus A400M airlifter, and one A330 MRTT tanker. 

The Australian Defence Magazine reports that the Armée de l'Air is only the second A330 MRTT operator to demonstrate aerial refueling capability with an RAAF C-17A. Only the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) and the RAAF operate both A330 MRTT tankers and C-17A transports. 

The momentous refueling signifies that the bilateral issues caused by AUKUS are water under the bridge for both Australia and France. 

What happened between Australia and France in the AUKUS?

AUKUS is a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, announced on September 15, 2021. 

A day after the announcement, Australia decided to shelve an existing multi-billion-dollar order for French non-nuclear submarines and opt instead for an alternative deal with the United States and Great Britain.

The Australian government paid a penalty of €550 million ($550 million) for the canceled project.

In September 2022, a year after the submarine affair, the French Minister for the Armed Forces welcomed the Australian Minister of Defense at the Brest naval base to strengthen new military partnerships moving forward.

“[There] is a new momentum in [cooperation] between [Australia and France]. At my level [the bilateral issues] are over,”  Brigadier General Valery Putz, head of the French Armed Forces in New Caledonia (FANC) told Australian Defence in a briefing in Canberra. 

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