Another political aircraft foisted on our Armed Forces

#2
Can someone please explain what would be wrong with getting more C-130 (both J&K). Then we have heavy lift (C-17) and the medium/smaller lift.

Benefit would be we could probably get them now, instead of 2011 ... 12.... 13....14
 
#3
Nothing wrong with more J-models and a couple more C-17. In theory, the A400M made sense when we signed up for it, since we'd have ended up with a fleet of 25 J-model Hercules and 25 A400M. Given the greater load carrying ability of the A400, the mix of the two types would/should/will [ha!] be good.

The theory, of course, hasn't translated into practice. Getting the C-17, which proved to be a huge (no pun intended) asset and then deciding to buy the four airframes (a buy since expanded) raised doubts about whether we should be aiming for the A400M, or for more C-130J and a few more C-17.

Even if we went to Lockheed now, we'd have to wait a bit to get the extra C-130Js, but that could just about do it. AIUI, we lose some more C-130K next year through retirement, while the C-130J is munching though its fatigue index like John Prescott on the contents of a pie shop. Add to that the fact that the FSTA isn't going to be around for a while, as VC10s get more and more tired, and Tristars go in for mods to get them to their out of service date...

By about 2012/2013, it'll be a case of 'if you thought the AT situation was bad in 2008...

Add to that, in no particular order:

1. The fact that the rapid aging of the GR4 fleet means that we will actually need those Typhoons the government is attempting to delay buying (so it can sponsor Newcastle United) so that the overworked GR4 groundcrews aren't faced with the near impossible task of attempting to generate enough serviceable GR4s to meet commitments;

2. The fact that the Harrier will need some TLC before too long (so again, a need for those Typhoons being syphoned off to the Saudis)

3. The fact that the Tornado F3 will be on its last legs

4. The need for a new Nimrod (so we can do maritime and other ahem... assorted recce tasks)

And we have a fairly major spot of bother - about which Gordon doesn't care, because he probably won't be PM when the storm breaks. All of that without considering the need for more SH, too.

On the plus side, the opening flypast at the Olympics will take less time through lack of airframes, allowing the opening ceremony to revel in 2 hours of expensive pretension...
 
#4
Hi Archi

I think I am one of the few supporters of the A400, in fact I would buy more and scale down on the C130, perhaps getting a small very short take off an landing transport aircraft to supplement the Chinook fleet.

I know there are many arguments against the A400 and many of them are entirely valid but the one thing that you simply cannot get away from is the trend, followed by fact, for larger in volume and weight plant and vehicles. Just look at the recent vehicle purchases and you can see this trend in action right before your eyes. The net effect of this is the C130J can shift a decreasing percentage of the Army's kit and the C17 whilst possible is not in reality going to be going to too many rough strips and we only have a handful anyway.

This puts the A400 right in the frame and I think it is going to do very well in the export market. The A400 design specs have been very carefuly thought through, everything from cost of onwership to cargo compartment dimensions, floor loading, take off/landing distances and even ground pressure (which I understand is less than a C130J)

Altough the C130J's problems are behind it now many people conveniently forget them when comparing it with the A400. All new pieces of kit have issues.

So although there is no doubt political forces at play I still can't get away from the issues raised above and would be really interested in your thoughts on this.

Your other points are very depressing as well.
 
#5
meridian said:
The A400 design specs have been very carefuly thought through, everything from cost of onwership to cargo compartment dimensions, floor loading, take off/landing distances and even ground pressure (which I understand is less than a C130J)
I have never really been a fan of A400M. I remember the BAe bloke at Filton on a visit telling us that 'yes all aircraft are late into service but A400 won't be... it WILL be in by 2008...!' We said he was talking arrse... and weren't wrong!

I prefer the 'more C130J / lots more C17' argument but you do make some good points. What you haven't mentioned in the A400's long list of careful design considerations is the Ramp Pin Loading. The maximum loading for C130 was a major design limitation for FRES for some time (as more conventional designs would at some point pivot on the ramp pin thus the vehicle AUM was limited by pin loading... or you used fancy suspension / articulation (Viking?) to spread the load) but then transport in a C130 was dropped; does the A400 ramp pin also artificialy limit what can be loaded?
 
#6
Originally 4 C-17s were leased from Boeing under a 7-year contract to provide a short-term solution to the airlift problem. The idea was that the A400M would be in service by 2008 and the C-17 would be returned to the US.

I firmly believe that somebody high-up knew damn-well that the the C-17 would prove too capable to ever be sent back. The short-term lease idea was just a vehicle to get the aircraft into service as quickly as possible, and at the time the deal was done it was the only way the RAF could get the C-17 past the pro-European politicians. As it turns out, it was a crucial tactic because the A400M is heavily delayed and facing further problems whilst the RAF C-17 fleet has been purchased outright and has been increased by 50%, with possibly more to come.

On paper the A400M is a fantastic aircraft when compared with the C-130; carrying much more, much further and significantly faster. However, despite what Airbus salesmen try to say, it is much less capable in all important criteria than the C-17, which would be fine if it were much cheaper and more could be bought. Which brings us to what is really the nub of the A400M programme - how many C-17s could you buy instead for the same money. When the contracts were signed the ratio was 2:1 ie the A400M was half the price of a C-17, which made it look like quite good value. However, as everyone (except those involved) predicted, the A400M is late as a result of technical difficulties. This is no surprise as nearly all airlifters have suffered similar problems. Every time a company builds one they have to re-learn the lesson that these aircraft are more complex than airliners and are not easy to develop. The last I heard, we could have got around 17 C-17s for the same cost as our 25 A400Ms. As delays mount the ratio will worsen, making the aircraft look like a bad buy.

It is no surprise that in the USAF the C-17 is called Buddha, because is big, fat and worshipped by everyone.
 
#7
The reason for the delay on the A400 is the engine, a totally new design that will be the most powerful of its type in the world so it breaking ground. I seem to recall that this was the riskiest option but one which kept it European against the common sense one of another country.

Floor loading, I believe the RAF has requested a modification to the standard spec to enable greater loading so it can specifically carry the Royal Engineers Terrier which by the way cant be carried by the C130

The original FRES concepts were built around C130J until common sense and physics intervened then it was designed around A400. Although FRES may be in danger as the recent vehicle purchasing contracts work their way through the system but even if it remains as is it simply will not be able to be shifted by C130J, if the A400 were cancelled then the principal medium weight combat vehicle in our inventory will only be able to be shifted by our half dozen C17's. Of course its not all about vehicles and plant, pallets of ammunition and rations etc are probably a more common cargo but you cant have your air transport fleet unable to shift in numbers huge swathes of your inventory.

We should stop comparing the C17 and A400, they are in completely different classes. The A400 is simply a better C130. Much like the Land Rover is at the twilight of its usefulness so is the C130. Asking how many C17's you could get for the price of a few A400 is irrelevant, they are not comparable. Talk about how many C130J's you could get for the price of an A400 and you will be suprised. Of course it is not as capable as the C17 but then its half the price. Although the C17 can fly in the rough stuff its not really the done thing as it fcuks them up big style.

The A400 is on a fixed price, so any delays cost EADS not us although I concede some play may be involved when it comes to fitting extras like DAS, pallets handling etc the fundamental cost is fixed.

Whatever the arguments for and against you simply cannot get away from the trend in volume and weight of current and future plant and vehicles. Everything is getting bigger and heavier especially when you consider the theatre entry spec vehicles now in use.

Taking this as a given you are faced with the prospect of the C130 being left behind and the C17 not being that good or desirable to use in the rough stuff and you are left with the only sensible option, the A400

I am not an air expert by any stretch but the world is changing and the C130 is at the end of its evolution.

We should be bold and bin the C130 when the A400 starts coming into service, buy a few more C17's, crack on FSTA (preferably not in PFI) and buy a handful of very small extreme short take off and landing transports

Would be really interested if others share this view or am I talking rubbish :D
 
#8
We should be bold and bin the C130 when the A400 starts coming into service, buy a few more C17's, crack on FSTA (preferably not in PFI) and buy a handful of very small extreme short take off and landing transports
When it starts coming into service.... :p
 
#9
Meridian. in your fervour for A400M do you realise that it has been reported that only 9 out of 25 airframes have been procured with DAS?

Just wondered how useful that will be as we will most certainly be plugged into Afg when A400M arrives with a possibility of war with Iran to come.
 
#10
AlfieNoakes said:
I firmly believe that somebody high-up knew damn-well that the the C-17 would prove too capable to ever be sent back. The short-term lease idea was just a vehicle to get the aircraft into service as quickly as possible, and at the time the deal was done it was the only way the RAF could get the C-17 past the pro-European politicians.
I've heard that stated a few times, I do wonder if it's a tactic we should use to get other bits of decent kit into service - or will the purse string holders be wise to it now?
 
#11
nigegilb said:
Meridian. in your fervour for A400M do you realise that it has been reported that only 9 out of 25 airframes have been procured with DAS?

Just wondered how useful that will be as we will most certainly be plugged into Afg when A400M arrives with a possibility of war with Iran to come.
Yes I had heard that, i believe it is in the NAO major projects summaries but realistically can you see the rest not being equipped as they come into service.
 
#12
Toasted_Giant said:
AlfieNoakes said:
I firmly believe that somebody high-up knew damn-well that the the C-17 would prove too capable to ever be sent back. The short-term lease idea was just a vehicle to get the aircraft into service as quickly as possible, and at the time the deal was done it was the only way the RAF could get the C-17 past the pro-European politicians.
I've heard that stated a few times, I do wonder if it's a tactic we should use to get other bits of decent kit into service - or will the purse string holders be wise to it now?
It worked for Osprey and proper armoured vehicles like Bulldog. The MOD can't exactly refuse to supply any more of those now.
 
#13
Meridian,

You are NOT the only supporter of the A400M. It will be a fantastic aircraft when in service. You are absolutely right about the engine being the main delay. With hindsight they probably should have gone to ethe P&W Canada engine option, but they will fix the problems and as I say will be s superb asset to the RAF. I would like to see more than 25 ordered and I understand that more C17 will be purchased. A total of 12 has been mentioned by those in the know! I think we also need something smaller than the C130 for intra-theatre operations.

Salvador
 
#14
meridian said:
...you simply cannot get away from the trend in volume and weight of current and future plant and vehicles. Everything is getting bigger and heavier especially when you consider the theatre entry spec vehicles now in use. :D
I couldn't agree more Meridian and I'm sure the A400M will be fantastic when we eventually see it in service. My concern is with airdrop, we're using it day in day out and to great effect at the moment but it seems to be a bit of an after thought on the A400M project. We can't lose the Herc until airdrop on the A400M is sorted in that role, and from what I've seen that could be a while after it arrives.
 
#15
I did read somewhere that airdrop was quite low on the priorities list for A400 but again, its a tactical transport so airdropping is a must have and like many things will evolve into the aircraft. Don't forget the C130 first flew over 50 years ago.

I wasnt advocating dropping the C130 until the A400 is well in service but more of a strategic direction to follow
 
#16
We should stop comparing the C17 and A400, they are in completely different classes.
Meridian - I partially agree with you, They are in different classes in terms of capability. Unfortunately, the cost of the A400M is climbing to a level where it is inevitably going to draw comparisons with the C-17. I simply do not believe that it is going to arrive at the cost initially quoted. It is all very well to say it is a fixed-price deal, but the Euro-governments cannot let EADS go to the wall, which they will surely do if they have to bear all the spiralling costs themselves. Moreover, what will the true price be for a fleet of operationally useful aircraft, all fitted with DAS and the necessary floor reinforcements? I believe that the performance and cost of the A400M must always be compared to both the C-130 and the C-17 in order to gauge the true value of the programme.

Airbus salesmen regularly compare their product to the C-17 in terms of range/payload - although they conveniently ignore the fact that the A400M is not going to be allowed to cruise at it's most efficient levels due to it's disparity in speed with the airliners that live up there.

Nothing about this project has led me to doubt my original prediction which was:
If the UK government had agreed to buy a fleet of 25 new C-17s on the day they signed the leasing deal, the unit cost at that time will turn-out to be equivalent to the price that will eventually be paid for the A400M.

A400M promises to be a great aircraft, but that's all it is at the moment - promises. It is in danger of becoming a very expensive way of delivering half the capability of a C-17.
 
#17
The UK also previously removed defensive countermeasures equipment from all but nine of its 25 A400Ms, reducing procurement costs by around £240 million ($417 million).

Good post Alfie, I do believe you are right.
 
#18
AlfieNoakes said:
A400M promises to be a great aircraft, but that's all it is at the moment - promises. It is in danger of becoming a very expensive way of delivering half the capability of a C-17.
You are comparing the C17 with an A400 and they are most definately not the same thing

C17 = Strategic transport with the ability to slum it
A400 = Tactical transport with the ability to do strategically useful distances

I see where you are coming from, the C17 is well proven but the A400 will be able to do things that the C17 can't, and vice versa of course.

A much more relevant comparison would be the A400 and C130 which is where I think the A400 comes out well.

Don't forget much of the 'cost' comes back into the coffers through workshare, unlike the C17 where we get more or less nothing.

As to DAS, I simply cannot see any aircraft in an operational theatre not having DAS fitted given events of the last few years.
 
#19
I think you are making far too big a differentiation between the Strat and Tac capabilites and potential utiliization of all these aircraft.

Let's get one thing straight; the C-17 is a massively capable asset in the tactical arena. The USAF C-17 crews train for the full spectrum of tactical missions including assault, airdrop and special operations functions. The aircraft is so much more than simply a smaller C-5 with some rough-landing capability, which you seem to imply by describing it as a "Strategic transport with the ability to slum it". Unfortunately, the UK will not be able to utilize the aircraft's capabilites in this area unless the fleet is expanded to a size that would allow a meaningful level of tactical training to take place alongside the strategic airlift task.

The capabilities and limitations of the C-130 are well known, and it's greater suitabilty to the tactical role is undisputed. And yet, perhaps until very recently, the overwhelming majority of UK C-130 hours were flown hauling freight and people over long distances. Similarly, a very significant proportion, if not a majority, of A400M tasking will be Strat AT and the importance of this role is too significant to categorize the aircraft as a "Tactical transport with the ability to do strategically useful distances".

I do not dispute that a comparison of A400M and C-130 is worthwhile. If it performs as promised, the A400M will have a greater range/payload/speed and in most ways outperforms the C-130. There are a few tasks that are more suited to the C-130 due to it's smaller size, particularly in the special ops arena. However, the customer might find the performance of the A400M is worth the extra cost, and those specialist tasks could be moved to another platform. A particular nation might find that a large/small mix of A400M and, say, C27J might be a better solution than a C-130 fleet. However, if you are prepared to accept that form of analysis then a C-17/C-130 fleet comparison to the A400M also has to be allowed. The point I am making is that you cannot decide to down-compare the A400M to the C130 and yet refuse to up-compare it to the C-17. As I said before, even the EADS salesmen try to pitch their aircraft as better than a C-130 and nearly as good as a C-17, but for less cost.

All these aircraft have to be looked for what part of the national requirement they fulfill and a what cost. Simplisticly, A400M is better than C-130, but more expensive; and C-17 is better than A400M, but more expensive. What we really need to assess is the value for money of each of these aircraft. The C-130 and C-17 solution is a known quantity in terms of cost and capability, but the A400M is not. The European aircraft will only get more expensive and/or deliver less capability as it falls further behind the promised schedule. The cost will also have to rise further as the UK has to realise that the DAS and kinetic protection cannot be optional.

Your point about workshare is valid, and will become more pertinent as the recession deepens. However, although Airbus currently have plants in Britain they are not owned by a British company and EADS could easily decide to sacrifice UK jobs for those in the countries of the parent company. This aspect of the argument though brings us right back to the original question, which queried the political nature of the whole project.
 
#20
Just seen this:

From Aviation Week & Space Technology

Airbus A400M may face design overhaul to meet performance targets

By Jens Flottau and Robert Wall

Airbus is facing much more than just contractual and schedule challenges in its A400M military airlifter program - the company may need to do a great deal of re-engineering work to achieve the aircraft's performance targets.

Numerous issues threaten to make the A400M a less attractive and capable aircraft, industry officials say, on top of the well-publicized delays in the flight-test program linked to the lagging engine Fadec development.

One key area of concern is that the A400M is overweight, which would negatively affect its payload and range capabilities. According to Airbus Military data, maximum payload is 37 tons and range is 1,780 naut. mi. with a full payload. But people close to the program say the aircraft is considerably heavier in its current development status. The first six units to be used in the flight-test program are 12 tons heavier than planned, according to those executives. A weight-saving campaign has identified a reduction potential of 7 tons. Early production aircraft will only incorporate reductions of 5 tons at most, leaving payload below the 30-ton mark.

Airbus Military appears to have informed procurement agency Occar about the likely weight penalty. Some Occar members, including France, have accepted the changes, but Germany, whose air force needs the aircraft for so-called out-of-area deployments that are both payload- and range-critical, has not. If the A400M falls far short of the previous design targets, missions to places such as Afghanistan would become much more complex and costly.

Germany plans to use the A400M to transport the Puma armored fighting vehicle that weighs 31.5 tons in its basic version. If Airbus Military cannot recoup more of the payload capabilities, the aircraft would only be able to carry the Puma with a sizable range restriction.

Government officials indicate it is unlikely that Germany would reduce its A400M order in favor of other models, such as the C-130J or the C-17 that are being evaluated by the U.K., but mainly for political reasons. A proposal by EADS CEO Louis Gallois to use Airbus A330-200Fs as an interim solution is receiving a lukewarm response at best.

"If we wanted to have a commercial freighter, we could simply charter one from Cargolux or somebody else," one German military official says angrily. But Germany's current C-160 Transall transport fleet flies a lot of short-haul domestic legs in Afghanistan to places that cannot accommodate an A330F. One air force official hints that the Transalls could continue operating for several more years instead, as they are well maintained. But Germany leases some Antonov An-124s for missions beyond the C-160 capabilities.

If the A400M's biggest customer (60 of 192 units on order) insists on the previous performance guarantees, it could force a major redesign of the aircraft, such as a larger wing to allow for more fuel. But that seems highly unlikely, given the already huge financial and schedule challenges that made Airbus CEO Thomas Enders describe the terms of the current program as being a "mission impossible."

On Jan. 9, EADS and Airbus announced a delay of up to four years in the A400M project and proposed renegotiating the contract with the Occar nations. According to the original terms committed to in 2003, EADS is carrying most of the financial risk of the program and may face big penalty payments if no solution is found. In their statement early in the month, Airbus Military and EADS said they "want to discuss the program schedule along with changes to other areas of the contract, including certain technical characteristics of this first-class military aircraft." No additional details were mentioned and Airbus/EADS officials have declined to comment further.

Responsibility for the A400M was recently shifted under the Airbus umbrella to reduce management complexity and improve program oversight.

Airbus officials suggest the main performance criteria aren't at any particular risk. The executive vice president of programs, Tom Williams, says the more he has been reviewing the program, the more certain he has become that "this is still going to be a bloody good airplane." The aircraft is beating its short-field performance and load targets, he says.

However, the fact that Airbus has halted A400M prototype production until "adequate maturity is reached" is interpreted by industry insiders as an indirect admission that there are probably massive changes to the aircraft in the works, making continued production obsolete at this point.

Industry officials say the weight problem could well turn out to be the primary issue with the aircraft, and no longer engine software. One observer believes the A400M payload will end up 3-4 tons below the original target, even after the design changes, which could include the introduction of carbon fiber composites in non-critical areas. The three-year timeframe proposed by EADS between the first flight and first delivery at the end of 2012, at the earliest, suggests that modifications to some parts of the aircraft structure are also possible.

Some weight-saving initiatives are affecting aircraft operations, though. A hydraulic system to lower the main landing gear on the ground in order to ensure an even loading ramp has been scrapped. That decision means floor beams may have to be reinforced, since heavy tanks are planned to virtually drop down when their center of gravity has passed the loading edge.

Executives close to the Europrop International (EPI) engine consortium say Fadec issues with the TP400 are expected to be resolved by June. Gallois said early this month that once an acceptable standard Fadec was provided, the A400M could fly about a month later. But, in addition to software, there are also hardware problems involving the engines. Because of unexpectedly high loads, cracks were found in some of the original design engine gearbox casings. Those needed to be partially strengthened. The executives say upgraded casings have been delivered to the Seville, Spain, final assembly line and will be installed to replace the original parts.

Some special operational performance goals are also in doubt, according to people familiar with the details. For example, the A400M may not be able to fly "Sarajevo profile" steep approaches because of possible flutter issues with the propellers.

Moreover, officials familiar with the program say some systems may be rejected by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The agency appears not to agree with how oxygen bottles and fire protection systems are installed in the fuselage and main gear bay. If no agreement is reached, the A400M will not be given the EASA approval needed for planned civil certification. An EASA official says the agency does not comment on ongoing certification processes.

EADS is talking with customers about some requirements relief, but company officials claim these have to do with special needs and are not related to fundamental aircraft performance aspects. Enders says both customers and the company's own engineers contributed to some requirements being added that are "technologically hardly feasible or only feasible at a disproportionate amount of cost."

Williams says one example is an extreme tactical navigation requirement. It calls for the aircraft to fly low and remain entirely passive - not even using a terrain-following, terrain-avoidance system - to support special operations.
 

Similar threads

Latest Threads

Top