The UK is maintaining its tough stance in the wake of EADS's announcement of fresh schedule delays to the Airbus Military A400M transport project, confirming that it is assessing its short-term options and insisting that it will resist any call to increase spending on the troubled project.
"We are naturally concerned by the delays to the A400M programme, and continue to monitor the situation closely," the Ministry of Defence says. "We are considering various contingency plans to mitigate any potential capability gap," it adds.
The Royal Air Force had originally expected to receive its first of 25 A400Ms in 2010, but EADS on 9 January said that it did not expect to hand over its first example to launch operator the French air force until around the second half of 2012 - around three years late. The company also asked its seven European partner nations to agree a new contract for the programme via Europe's OCCAR procurement agency.
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International
UK defence secretary John Hutton swiftly responded by saying the delay "would impose an unnecessary, unacceptable strain on our air assets", and revealed that the MoD is considering purchasing more Boeing C-17 strategic transports, six of which are now in RAF use (one pictured below).
The MoD says its current options include "reallocating assets dependent on operational requirements, extending the out-of-service date of the [Lockheed Martin] C-130K, and leasing or procuring additional assets - for example C-17s or C-130s".
Introduced from 1966, the UK's dwindling C-130K fleet is expected to stay in use until 2012, although some of its airframes have previously been earmarked to remain operational for a potential further two years.
"We remain adaptive to emerging information on the A400M programme. Along with other nations we are considering how best to approach the issue of programme delays," the MoD says. However, it says: "The A400M is a fixed-price contract, and we are under no obligation to change this or accept an increase in price."
The UK had spent £564 million ($835 million) on the A400M programme by 31 March last year, according to the National Audit Office's Major Projects Report 2008, published in December. Its total planned investment is worth more than £2.6 billion, with the fleet previously expected to deliver full operational capability during 2018.
Source: Flight International