Airbus Defence & Space is making good progress against an accelerated capability development plan for the UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) A400M Atlas fleet, a senior company official says.
“We are working on the priorities that the MoD [Ministry of Defence] has set for the various capabilities that they require,” Airbus UK director of military affairs Sir Kevin Leeson told the UK parliament’s Defence Committee on 29 November. “I am confident that in terms of both availability and capability we can deliver to the MoD’s change priorities.”
A key requirement to introduce new operational capabilities stems from the pending transfer of special forces support tasks to the Atlas from the RAF’s Lockheed Martin C-130Js, which are scheduled for retirement.
Details of the performance requirements stipulated to enable the larger aircraft type to assume the role have not been disclosed. However, Leeson says the A400M is “substantially more capable” than the RAF’s current Hercules. He cites its ability to carry double the C-130J’s payload, or the same equipment twice as far, while being able to take off from an austere landing strip using only a slightly longer distance.
“A large number of the capabilities required for the special forces activity are already in place,” Leeson says. “Some within the capability plan are delivered within the next few months, and some are within the training and government release mechanism area.
“We are confident that in terms of the priorities that we have been set that we can meet the requirements,” he adds.
The RAF recently conducted its longest distance airdrop mission involving an Atlas, with one of its transports flying roughly 1,220nm (2,250km) from Brize Norton in southern England to near Marrakech, Morocco. The aircraft was used to deliver equipment including a quad bike, vehicle trailer and rations for use by ground forces during the bilateral Exercise Jebel Sahara.
Clearances also are already in place for paratroop jumps performed from the aircraft’s rear cargo ramp and side doors, although UK military approvals have yet to be secured for simultaneous deployment from either side of the aircraft.
Meanwhile, Leeson says progress is being made to remedy long-term issues with the transport’s Europrop International TP400-D6 turboprop engines; specifically accelerated wear affecting its propeller gearbox.
Referring to “a regrettable collection of discoveries in the engine” which hindered operations by the RAF’s A400M fleet earlier this year, he told the committee: “We had a little bit of difficulty with that in the summer, but I am pleased to say that we are completely through that.” Airbus has “borne the burden” of funding remedial action, he adds.
“The problem of the IPA gear deterioration we are essentially through in design terms,” Leeson says. “The Mod Pack 2 [update] is already in delivery, and we have accommodations for those aeroplanes that are still pre-modification, where the gearboxes don’t have the life that they should.”
Referring to the RAF’s assets, and without disclosing exact figures, he confirms: “We don’t have any aeroplanes in the first-line fleet that are short of engines or gearboxes.”
The UK recently received its penultimate A400M from a 22-aircraft acquisition.