Airbus A400M could miss schedule for USAF HC/MC-130 replacement

Washington DC
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Airbus Military's A400M airlifter will be too late to replace the US Air Force special-operations Lockheed Martin HC/MC-130s unless the service is prepared to delay a planned competition.

"At the moment the schedules do not align. We are out of phase by two years," says Ralph Crosby, chief executive of EADS North America.

The US Air Force has listed the A400M as a potential candidate for its HC/MC-130 recapitalisation programme.

 
 The contest would be EADS' first chance to offer its A400M to the US military Airbus military©

Lockheed's C-130J is seen as the leading candidate, but the requirement for new special-operations tankers and transports has been viewed as the first opportunity for EADS to offer the larger A400M to the US military.

"We are making sure the air force customer understands the unique capabilities of the aircraft, while also being realistic about what we can provide," says Crosby.

Air Force Special Operations Command has outlined a requirement for 115 aircraft to replace its HC-130N/P tankers and MC-130E/P transports, with deliveries planned to begin in 2011. The A400M is due to enter service in 2009.

"There are some 180 aircraft sold to European customers. We can't put them to the back of the queue," says Crosby.

"We have had a preliminary look at what slots are available in what year. We will not promise what we can't deliver."

Crosby also says EADS would look at offering an armed version of its UH-72A light utility helicopter if the US Army cancels the Bell ARH-70A armed reconnaissance helicopter and recompetes the programme "with the usual lead times".

With deliveries of UH-72 (Eurocopter EC145) under way to the US Army, Crosby says interest from other militaries is increasing and EADS "is figuring out how fast we can build more".