Eighteen months ahead of receiving its first of the aircraft, the UK Ministry of Defence has signed contracts worth more than a combined £300 million ($450 million) linked to the training service and self-protection equipment for its Airbus Military A400M airlifters.

Announced at the type's future main operating base with the Royal Air Force at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on 1 March, the deals will support the UK's eventually 22-strong fleet of Atlas tactical transports.

A400M Brize Norton - Craig Hoyle

Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal

Development aircraft "Grizzly 4" visited RAF Brize Norton on 1 March

Work to build a UK training school for the A400M had already started at the site in advance of a £226 million contract signature between the MoD and a joint venture between Airbus Military and Thales Training and Simulation. Under the 18-year deal, the A400M Training Services company will provide services and equipment including two full flight simulators, computer-based training systems and a loadmaster workstation.

The first pilot training course to use the infrastructure is due to be launched in April 2015, says Flt Lt Chris Aston, a pilot assigned to the RAF's 24 Sqn training unit for the new type. The service's first instructors are due to begin their conversion to the A400M around the middle of 2013, at Airbus Military's San Pablo site in Seville, Spain.

Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing with regard to a joint in-service support model to be contracted with the airframer by the French and UK defence ministries. Talks are currently focused on an initial two-year deal to run from mid-2014, with a follow-on element to extend this by a further 10 years, says Richard Thompson, chief executive of Airbus Military UK.

The MoD also has announced an £80 million order with Northrop Grumman to provide large aircraft infrared countermeasures equipment to protect the UK's A400Ms in operational use. This will include the same defensive aids installation as currently used with RAF types including the Boeing C-17 strategic transport.

Production activities linked to the UK's first A400M are already under way, with the all-composite wing for aircraft MSN16 having recently been placed in a jig in Filton, Bristol. This and other main structures for the transport are due to arrive at Airbus Military's San Pablo final assembly line around June. The aircraft is scheduled to arrive at Brize Norton in September 2014.

Current plans call for the Atlas to achieve in-service status with the RAF in March 2015, following the arrival of its seventh aircraft. An official linked to the UK's A400M acquisition says the nation's final example is due to be delivered during 2021.

Meanwhile, Airbus Military's first production A400M is on track to perform its debut flight from Seville during the week of 4 March, according to the company. One of four Atlas transports scheduled to be delivered during 2013, MSN7 is the first of 50 aircraft on order for the French air force. It was due to perform a high-speed rejected take-off test on 1 March; one of the final hurdles to be cleared before it can be flown for the first time.

Source: Flight International