Tim Ripley  

Two of the contenders for the UK Ministry of Defence's new strategic heavylift aircraft leasing contract are here at Farnborough.

The Boeing C-17A Globemaster III and the Airbus A300-600ST Beluga are battling for the unique Short Term Strategic Airlift contract, worth around £1 million ($1.6 million) a month per aircraft, to fill the shortfall in the UK's strategic mobility capability.

The Ukrainian-Russian Antonov An-124 Ruslan (Condor) is also in the running for the initial seven year contract.


"The ability to deploy, sustain and recover our forces rapidly is of critical importance if we are to be able to respond quickly to future crisis," declared the Labour Government's Strategic Defence Review, which was unveiled in July.

The RAF wants to be able to move heavy armour, artillery, Apache attack helicopters and other outsized cargoes rapidly to crisis zones.

The Ministry of Defence announced that it was looking to lease "four large transport aircraft, such as the C-17 or their equivalent" as a short term addition to the RAF's fleet of Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Lockheed Tristars and Vickers VC-10s.

In the long term, a large scale replacement programme is planned to augment the first batch of 25 new C-130Js that began being delivered to the RAF last month.

An invitation to tender for the leasing contract is due to be issued this month, and the winners will probably be announced early in 1999, with the aircraft in RAF service by 2001. It is understood the lease will initially be for seven years, with options to extend or reduce the leasing period by one or two years.

The front-runner, and presumed benchmark for the contest, is the C-17, which has been on the RAF's wish list for several years. The 53, (174ft) long aircraft is designed to allow tanks and other vehicles to drive into it cavernous cargo hold via its tail cargo ramp.

Another contender for the RAF contract is the An-124. It can carry a cargo of 171,000kg (377,473lb).

An outsider in the contest is the A300-600ST Beluga, or Super Transporter. The highly modified Airbus airliner, which replaced the old Super Guppy aircraft used to move wings between the company' sites, is unmistakable because of its huge bulbous cargo hold. It can carry some 47,000kg of cargo.

The British choice of strategic airlifter and leasing partner will set a precedent for other nations looking to enhance their capability without major capital investments.

It will also have major implications for Britain's ultimate choice of future airlifters to replace its existing inventory.

Source: Flight Daily News