Howard Gethin/LONDON

BIDDERS for the Royal Air Forces' Short Term Strategic Airlifter Requirement are considering whether it is worth responding to a UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) invitation to tender, believing the requirement can only be met by one contender, the Boeing C-17.

"We are examining the wording of the invitation to tender to see if it fits any aircraft other than the C-17," an executive of a rival competitor said after the invitation to bid was released on 30 September.

The invitation to tender was issued to Airbus, Boeing, Air Foyle, HeavyLift, Brown and Root, and a combination of IBP and Rolls-Royce. Aircraft said to be "under consideration"by the MoD are the Antonov An-124, the Airbus A300-based Beluga, Boeing C-17 and MD-17 and the Ilyushin Il-76.

The MoD's request for proposals (RFP) lists a variety of requirements that in combination appear to rule out any aircraft other than the C-17. This includes the ability to operate from austere strips and lift capability for a variety of military hardware including the Boeing Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters plus the multiple launch rocket system, as well as a preference for a design with military certification. The Beluga could carry a Chinook, but would be ruled out by its inability to operate from austere strips. The An-124 could operate from austere strips and carry a Chinook, but has a multi-crew cockpit.

The restricted section of the RFP is also believed to call for a two-man cockpit and a landing roll of under 4,000ft (1,400m); the crew requirement seemingly the principal hurdle for the An-124, which has two flight engineers. The RFP also says that RAF crews would "probably be required". An-124 crews flying for companies such as Air Foyle and Heavylift are almost exclusively Russian and Ukrainian.

While the MoD says the training of RAF crews could be included in the package by a lessor, the requirement favours the C-17, which the RAF hopes to acquire as part of its long-term Hercules Replacement Tranche Two requirement. British Aerospace has announced a deal with Boeing to support the C-17's introduction into service.

Source: Flight International