I predict: A400M vs AN-70 for USAF airlifter contract in 2015

I’m going to bash out a little thought experiment on one potential future scenario. Here it goes.

It’s 2015. Both the long-lived Boeing C-17 and extremely long-lived Lockheed Martin C-130 production lines either have just shut down or are finally about to close.

Neither Boeing’s engineers in Long Beach nor Lockheed’s engineers in Marrietta have anything new in the pipeline. Sure, there’s some paper drawings of stealthy tactical airlifters getting some buzz, but nothing within at least five to 10 years of coming to flying fruition.

So, both manufacturers decide to do what all US defense companies do in this situation: they go foreign!

Lockheed locks arms with the company they spurned more than 15 years before on a potential joint tanker bid. So the Lockheed/Airbus axis offers the USAF the in-production A400M, which of course will be assembled in Mobile or Marrietta (or both) and fitted with a new 10,000shp-class General Electric turboprop or the Pratt & Whitney Canada PWC800, which was actually the orignal A400M engine before “the Chirac affair”.

Boeing, which will never partner with the likes of Airbus, has to be more clever. They decide to link up with the manufacturer they briefly considered for a Joint Cargo Aircraft bid: Ukraine’s Antonov! The AN-70 is a rugged beast of an airframe, and Boeing’s engineers believe they can smooth out its aerodynamic and mechanical quirks. Boeing parks the new AN-70 assembly line somewhere in the US southeast, with Charleston (South Carolina), Jacksonville or San Antonio on the shortlist.

Okay, that’s my crazy theory for the day. Please tell me what you think. Poke as many holes as you like.


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12 Responses to I predict: A400M vs AN-70 for USAF airlifter contract in 2015

  1. Jim Atkins 5 February, 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    At first glance, this seems like somebody has been sniffing turbine exhaust fumes, but you’re right- the BWB idea and its cousins won’t be ready for primetime for quite a while. An interim airlifter could very well come from foreign partnerships. Like with the tanker deal, speed of delivery is of the essence before any more old airframes fall apart.

    EDITOR’s COMMENT: Er — thanks, I think! I like your point. I agree BWB is beyond 2020. Manufacturers don’t like 10-year gaps in product cycles.

  2. keesje 7 February, 2008 at 10:01 am #

    Good brain exercise. I did the same elsewhere & it quickly became an interesting / hot topic.


    I foresee the same situation as you. I always liked the AN-70 & think the Russians should have bought piles of it, but politics..

    Sadly it will be over 20 yrs old in 2015. However still young compared to the then 60 yr design C130J..

    On the A400M engine. I think everybody has come to believe the Pratt engine for the A400M was a comparable candidate. I think it was very much restricted in max power, changing the overall performance of the A400M..

    Empty A400Ms + 4 x 11.000hp props + FBW will no doubt do magic in future airshows ;-)

    I think in the end the USAF will take A400Ms, kicking & screaming no doubt. It’s just too good, available and has no real competition. ..


  3. Hermann Hagena (Brigadier General.Luftwaffe, ret.) 16 January, 2009 at 8:47 pm #

    Congratulations! Even though the A400M looks like it is never going to get off the ground and the blame game between Airbus Military, EPI and the nations has become nasty, I share your vision for the future of the An-70. The Progress engine with the counter-rotating propeller accounts for the world of difference between an aerodynamically clean aircraft and a flying monster. There is no official report of the Deccember 2008 first airborne test of the TP 400 engine on a Herc test best, but the rumor is everybody was glad when they were safely back on the ground even though the A400M engine was only operated at 50% of rated power.
    I have helped to bring the prototype An-70 to Cologne-Bonn airport in 1999 after Le Bourget, and half the German transport pilots were there and stunned when they saw the An-70 perform in flight, True,she carried only 15 t of test equipment but she looked like she could have landed on a carrier.
    I should add that of course, I am biased: I did do some consulting work for Antonov when they bid in 1998 for the Future Large Aircraft, and again when they bid for the NATO SALIS contract. They spent ten years perfecting the engine-propeller system, and when Airbus decided to go it alone instead of accepting the offer of cooperation, I thought that only stupid people learn from their own mistakes. The smart thing to do is to profit from other peoples’ experiences.

    Chistoye niebo – May you always have a clean sky, as they say in Russian. Hermann Hagena

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