Air Transportation: A400M Death Match

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January 11, 2010: The manufacturer of the new European military transport, the A400M, which is already three years late and billions of dollars over budget, want more money. Those who have already placed orders (for 180 aircraft) have been told that the price they thought they were going to pay ($161 million per aircraft) has gone up twenty percent. In response, some major buyers said they were considering cancelling their orders. In turn, the manufacturer said that such actions would force the cancellation of the project. This particular stand-off may go on for a month or so before we know if the A400M just got a lot more expensive (twice what the new C-130J costs), or is going to disappear shortly after it took its first flight (last month).

The threat to cancel orders is not an empty one. Several European nations (Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain), including many A400M buyers, have already taken other measures to make up for the failure of the new transport to arrive on time.

For example, these nations have established EATF (European Air Transport Fleet). This will consist of a pool of C-130 and other (including, if it survives, the A400M) military transports for NATO or European Union military or (more often) peacekeeping operations. As European nations get more involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations overseas, they are hustling to make good on their shortage of long range military transports. Thus one solution is the EATF, so that all the transports available can be used by any of the pool nations involved in a distant operation.

NATO already has a pool that includes leased Russian AN-124s, and the purchase of C-17s. Members of the pool have 117 new A400Ms on order, but these won't begin arriving for another 3-4 years, if ever. Several of these countries are considering purchasing C-17s and C-130Js to make up for the missing A400Ms.

During the Cold War, such air transports were very low priority, because if there was a war, the mighty Red Army of the Soviet Union was going to home deliver it. But now all the action is far away, and the military needs air freight for emergencies and other urgent missions.

The Russian An-124s get a lot of work from NATO nations. This aircraft can carry up to 130 tons of cargo, as well as outsized and extremely large cargo. The more numerous American C-17 can only carry up to 84 tons, while the new A400M can lift a maximum of 40 tons. The advantage of the two smaller airlifters is the ability to operate from shorter unpaved runways, which makes them less dependable on existing infrastructure. Russia has put the An-124 back into production, partly because of the delays in the A400M project.

The A400M has a top speed of 779 kilometers per hour, a range of 7,500 kilometers, and normally carries about 27 tons. The nearest competitor is the American C-130. The most common version is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 has been in service for over half a century, and is used by more than 50 countries. The C160 is an European aircraft, that is best described as a half-size C-130. Great for moving stuff around inside Europe, but less so for more distant destinations.

 


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