The UK Ministry of Defence must decide whether delays to its procurement of 25 Airbus Military A400M transports could be severe enough to merit its withdrawal from the multinational development, says a new report from the cross-party House of Commons Defence Committee.
"Once the extent of the delay to the A400M programme is confirmed, the MoD needs to decide whether it considers the programme to be so delayed that abandonment would be preferable, and to take timely decisions either to procure or lease other airlift assets so that a capability gap in air transport does not develop," says the 26 February report.
Giving evidence late last year, UK chief of defence materiel, Gen Sir Kevin O'Donoghue, told the committee: "The key here is to find out what the schedule for delivery of the A400M is. That is the challenge at the moment."
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O'Donoghue identified a likely two-year slippage to UK deliveries, originally scheduled to start next year. However, a subsequent announcement by lead A400M stakeholder EADS revealed that the challenges facing the programme are likely to prevent first delivery - to launch operator the French air force - until at least the second half of 2012.
Announced in January, the estimated three-year delivery delay prompted the UK MoD to confirm that it was weighing alternatives to maintaining its fixed-price commitment to the A400M programme. These include extending operations of the Royal Air Force's more than 40-year-old Lockheed Martin C-130Ks, buying additional Boeing C-17s and/or C-130Js and potentially leasing additional assets, it said.
"We call on the [UK] government to set out its most up-to-date thinking on these options," the Defence Committee's report says.