RAF Heavy Lift

A guest post from Chris.B

Lately there has been a lot of talk about various transport helicopters for the RAF and other discussions regarding supporting x number of men at y distance on operations of various sizes. Now during a moment of boredom during a long day I did a bit of perusing around and saw some rather interesting numbers, which prompted the thought of taking a moment just to have a quick look at the future of the RAF’s heavy lift. If nothing else it’ll gives us something new to discuss/argue over and bridge the gap to some of the bosses’ upcoming articles.

So, the current state of air force heavy lift comprises 8 TriStars, 9 VC-10’s, around 30 C-130 Hercules and 8 C-17 Globemaster III’s.  The TriStars and VC-10’s are on their way out soon, to be replaced by the Airbus A330-MRTT (known as ‘Voyager’ in UK service) as these aircraft start to come into service. The Hercules will also gradually be replaced by the Airbus A400M (to be known as ‘Atlas’ in UK service, purportedly), starting with the 7 ‘K’ models (presumably the RAF Falcons parachute display team will have to find some other mode of deployment). That will leave the RAF with a four platform system until the slightly newer C-130J’s also leave service, which will bring us down to three platforms.

The question though is whether the A400M is the right aircraft for the job?

The main problem as I see it is that the A400M is neither here nor there. Its payload carrying capacity is barely more than that of the C-130J, yet it settles in at comfortably close to double the price per unit! Compared to the C-17 the A400M is only about 70-75% of the price, but has less than half the carrying capacity out to a range of about 2500 nautical miles (30 tons for the A400M vs nearly 70 tons for the C-17).

To me that seems very odd and neatly wraps up the growing problem that I’m having with anything military being described as ‘Medium’.  Medium in this case appears to mean overpriced for the small jobs and grossly underperforming on the big ones. So what are the alternatives?

The simplest and probably cheapest option in the long run is to purchase more Hercules aircraft of the C-130J variant for the ‘tactical’ role and more C-17 for the ‘Strategic’ role. This keeps the number of types down to three when the Voyager is factored in and should meet UK needs admirably. A key component of this is the fact that both these aircraft are already in service as opposed to the A400M, and thus we already have training and support arrangements in place. It’s also considerably less risky as we’re dealing with platforms we know a lot about, compared to the continual problems that have been incurred with the A400M.

RAF Tactical Transport Aircraft - C130 C17 A400M
RAF Tactical Transport Aircraft – C130 C17 A400M

There is another option that keeps the number of types down to three (Hercules, Globemaster, Voyager) but is slightly more off the wall. That option is to increase slightly the number of Hercules to cover the ‘tactical’ side, while buying more Voyager aircraft in the ‘strategic’ role (but separate from the current Voyager PFI).  The reasoning is fairly simple; for about the same price as a Globemaster, the Voyager offers quite a significant leap in certain areas, albeit with some caveats.

For clarity, the current mark of Voyager (KC2 and KC3) being brought into service under the PFI Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) program is a version of the Airbus A330 which is something of a compromise. It has the ability to carry probe and drogue refuelling pods under both wings (KC2), under the fuselage and both wings (KC3) and keeps the split lower cargo deck, but the top deck is fitted out with permanent seating. The purpose of this is primarily to benefit the Air Tanker Consortium who are handling the FSTA deal, as it allows them to use aircraft that are not immediately needed by the RAF as charters to the private sector. This understandably limits the cargo carrying capacity of the aircraft when in RAF service.

My proposal here is to buy additional A330’s aside from (and as far as bloody possible from) the PFI deal. Let’s call them Voyager KC4. These would be of the full cargo variant, and preferably with the full tanker conversion that Australia got, that permits refuelling of boom/receptacle aircraft such as the Globemaster and the Sentry AEW&C. This version of the A330 retains the dual cargo bay on the lower deck, but also has a complete upper cargo deck free for palletised cargo, which can include palletised seating if needed.

The reason I think this might be an idea worth considering is two fold; firstly it would greatly expand the UK’s tanker fleet, something which is always in high demand from the US and other allies in coalition operations (along with “them”). As TD himself has said on many occasions, we need to think about what we can bring to alliances and tanking aircraft are always reported as being high on the US list of ‘wants’ from us. Secondly, the performance of the full freighter version of the A330 is simply staggering. It can carry the same maximum payload as the Globemaster (around 70 tons), but take that load almost 50% further, out to around 3,200 nautical miles, which gets you from Brize Norton to Afghanistan with no stops. Alternatively you can take 65 tons from Brize Norton to somewhere like Ascension Island or Kenya, again, with no stops.

Now I did say there were some caveats and here they are. Firstly, the A330 can only take palletised loads, lacking as it does a rear loading ramp. That means no tanks, no armoured vehicles, no disassembled helicopters. Those loads would have to be handled by the C-17’s, unless someone can come up with a rather inventive work around. While unfortunate, I don’t think that’s a deal breaker, as it’s uncertain how often we would actually need that capability in such an urgent demand that the C-17’s couldn’t handle it. Predominantly we would expect such vehicle lifts to be done by sea.

The second caveat is that the A330 is a civilian aircraft, with low wings and high landing gear. That somewhat restricts it to more prepared airfields, as the low hanging engines are more vulnerable to the ingestion of foreign debris and the high undercarriage is not especially suited to rough terrain. Any mishap on a rough field would like end very, very badly. Again though, I’m not sure as this would be considered a deal breaker. Landings on unprepared surfaces are not something we routinely ask even our C-17’s to perform, and while the low hanging engines cause issues on rough strips they also make routine maintenance considerably easier.

Now there is actually an additional advantage for my proposed Voyager KC4, but I didn’t want to include it in the earlier section because it’s more of a paper advantage for now. Essentially, as we move forward modern air forces are turning more and more to commercial platforms to provide the basis of certain large aircraft roles such as Maritime Patrol, Airborne Early Warning and Control, and various ISTAR roles.

A good example of this is the Boeing 737, which serves as the base platform both for Australia’s new ‘Wedgetail’ Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft (fitted with a large AESA search radar) and also for the US Navy’s planned purchase of over 100 P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (yes, the US Navy will operate almost as many MPA as we have fighters!). The main advantages of this set up are the low maintenance and running costs of civilian based aircraft, and their very high endurance on task.

With the end of the UK’s Sentry AEW&C service life in sight, and the imminent retirement of the Sentinel ISTAR platform (used both in Afghanistan and Libya), as well as the current complete lack of any MPA, there is a future for developing the A330 to cover a number of additional roles and thus further reducing the number of aircraft types in service.

And now the fun part. Discuss!

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Mark
Mark
June 4, 2012 11:53 am

Interesting article a few things a400m will carry twice the payload of c130 over the same range or the same payload as a c130 over twice the range. Bit better than your suggestion. Also the a400 will have a similar cockpit layout to the a330 maybe easier cross training. A400 is the airlifter of choice in Europe more modern than a c130 and hopefully maintenance friendly. It offers aar and potientaly future Istar capability. Currently I’m lead to believe are transports bulk out in volume before weight which is a400s big advantage a much larger cross section.

Sentry in uk service is a probe refuelling system not sure what rivet joint will have if anything in uk service.

The a330f
http://www.airbus.com/aircraftfamilies/freighter/a330-200f/

A330 may make a battle space management a/c but I wouldn’t go replacing Astor with it, gx is cheap to run in comparision.gx is being used more and more for Istar and bacn tasking and fit out for that purpose.

Jim
Jim
June 4, 2012 12:00 pm

“My proposal here is to buy additional A330’s aside from (and as far as bloody possible from) the PFI deal. Let’s call them Voyager KC4. These would be of the full cargo variant, and preferably with the full tanker conversion that Australia got, that permits refuelling of boom/receptacle aircraft such as the Globemaster and the Sentry AEW&C. This version of the A330 retains the dual cargo bay on the lower deck, but also has a complete upper cargo deck free for palletised cargo, which can include palletised seating if needed.”

I may be wrong but under the terms of the PFI only Air Tanker can refuel RAF aircraft. So this is a non starter without tearing up the contract.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 4, 2012 12:19 pm

I would not enthuse too much about the 737 in military use. The endurance comes from the new engines, and here is what Wired reported late last year, when the announcement was out:
“Any frequent flier in a 737 probably has noticed the flat bottom on the engine nacelles housing the current engine’s 61-inch fans. The flat bottoms are necessary to provide enough clearance between the ground and the engines. The new engines have 68-inch fans, the best compromise between providing more thrust without being too large for the plane, said 737 program manager John Hamilton.

“When you look at drag, fuel efficiency and weight, the 68-inch fan is really the optimum solution for the 737 airplane going forward,” Hamilton said during a teleconference with reporters.”
– so 61 inches was not giving a generous clearance (nor endurance) and the new 68 is “touch and go” literally, even in major airports

Liger30
Liger30
June 4, 2012 12:19 pm

“I may be wrong but under the terms of the PFI only Air Tanker can refuel RAF aircraft.”

I might have missed something, but the exclusivity rule in the FSTA contract actually says that the MOD has committed itself to pay AirTanker 8000 pounds for flight and 300 pounds per hour of chartering of third part planes.
Additional RAF-owned tankers would not mean any penalty, so no issues for, say, A400 used as tanker or Buddy-Buddy on F35.

Indeed the problem does not seem to be about refueling, but transport: the RAF has chartered airtankers from Omega services in a few rare occurencies, and i’m sure that can be avoided with the Voyager.

On the other hand, judging from the number of chartered airplanes used to support Afghan ops, the RAF will forever charter tens of airplanes during a major operation.
And here we might have an immense problem.

The NAO report specified that there are exception to the penalty in the FSTA contract, but failed to explain them.
Hopefully one says that, once the RAF is using all FSTA planes (meaning that it has called on the services of the 5 part-time airplanes as well), any additional requirement can be met with chartering without incurring in penalties.

If the RAF does charter a plane to carry something instead of using one of the 9 Voyagers in the core fleet and/or Voyagers on call, it pays penalties.
Hopefully, if it charters planes on top of use of the whole fleet, there are no issues.

If there are, the RAF has just shot itself in the testicles.

Marcase
Marcase
June 4, 2012 12:23 pm

First of al, both the Hercules (max payload C-130J around 37,216 lbs, not kg ;) *and* the C-17 production lines are closing up shop, leaving the A400M line the only real alternative for the foreseeable future. The A400M is also positioned in the market to replace the gazillion Hercs used around the world – especially for those airforces which cannot afford the C-17.

So the cards for the A400M program are pretty well stacked in its favor.
Russia’s An77 and Brazils KC-390 are just not up for the task (yet).

Also, most -if not all- army vehicles are now standard in the 15-40t range for starters; the MRAP *revolution* has seen to that, so even lighter aircraft like the CN-235/C-295 are really not an option for modern (Western) militaries.

Your choice for “going commercial” with dual use “KC-4s” has merit, but these birds need fixed and secure runways for proper ops, and the “hub and spoke” log trail is something more and more frowned upon by military planners.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 4, 2012 12:30 pm

Hi Marcase,

I wonder what makes you say that “Russia’s An77 and Brazils KC-390 are just not up for the task (yet)”?
– there’s also the Indo-Russian Herc replacement coming up (not too soon, judging from the J orders for use by Indian SF) and the Swedish offer to take in use(and on-develop) the KC-390 should Brazil go for Gripen

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 4, 2012 1:25 pm

Blimey boss, that was quick!

@ Jim,
The air refuelling exlusivity is laregly b******s if I remember. I think it only applies to the RAF buying capacity from private suppliers when AirTanker Voyagers are available as an alternative.

@ Mark,
“Sentry in uk service is a probe refuelling system…”
— I thought they canned that over the cost?

Anyway, reading it back again I perhaps did under play the A400M compared to the C-130J, but luckily you overplayed it to compensate! Based on the figures given by Airbus the Atlas will take 30 tons to the same range as the Hercs 20 tons, but it can only 20 tons itself a bit further, maybe another 30-40%. The comparison is still valid. For a plane double the price it does rather fall short.

@ Marcase
The C-17 lines will be open for a while yet. The Indian order is expected to carry through till 2015 with options for more. Plenty of time to order, sort of.

Challenger
Challenger
June 4, 2012 1:27 pm

If the A400m is eventually replacing all the Hercules that’s a drop from originally nearly 40 down to 22. Is this considered acceptable because of the greater capacity it offers?

I do agree on the strange attitude to medium capability. Large or small both offer different aspects, medium only gives you the worst of both worlds without any obvious benifit.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 4, 2012 1:37 pm

RE ” a drop from originally nearly 40 down to 22. Is this considered acceptable because of the greater capacity it offers?”
– I’ve always wondered
– now we’ve got the three tactical (jet) lifters as a stopgap
– what would be a modern Skyvan? We need 10-12 to complement the rotary lift within theatre (and between bases, even in normal times)… take the sting out of training jump costs, as well

Mark
Mark
June 4, 2012 1:39 pm

Chris b

Your thinking of Astor and the refuel prob.

c130 is about 16tns c130-30 is 19tns, a400m is closer to 32tns. I will declare I had the pleasure of being on a400ms design team for several years so maybe a little bias. It also has a better landing gear than herc for the rough landings

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 4, 2012 2:05 pm

“Your thinking of Astor and the refuel prob”
— Bingo.

“I will declare I had the pleasure of being on a400ms design team for several years so maybe a little bias”
— Ah ha! ;) Well Lockheed has put there stake in the ground at 47,812lbs useful payload, or about 21.6 tons, for the C-130J-30 (Hercules C4 – an explosive name if you ask me). My concern is that for the price A400M doesn’t offer that great a leap in capability. The C-130 would probably be better as a short range transporter, the C-17 and A330 taking the longer/heavier legs.

Mark
Mark
June 4, 2012 2:27 pm

Chrisb

That’s all far points you can get up to 36 tns in a400m it range will suffer mind again though the main design request was to maximise the available cross section which was perceived as the hercs biggest weakness.
It’s prices like everything is hard to compare a lot of good extras on the a400m as standard and political interference.
As for the in theatre supply I’d don’t think fixed wing is really the way to go unless is something like an unpressurised Sherpa. Big helicopter ch53 would be gd if it would go 40 kts faster.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 4, 2012 3:18 pm

Perhaps in theatre was the wrong choice. Maybe low priority/demand/Uk runabout/para currency is a better sentence, thing.

Mike
Mike
June 4, 2012 3:54 pm

Good post Chris,

Though this:
“With the end of the UK’s Sentry AEW&C service life in sight, and the imminent retirement of the Sentinel ISTAR platform”

Dont count on it – very likely Sentry will be re-lifed and soldier on, probably in a joint upgrade with the USAF’s own tired fleet. I cant see it being replaced anytime soon as the costs prohibit it (E2 is just too weak compared, capability wise and what we need), unless we follow the Aussies in their belated Wedgetail programe (I think I’m right in that theirs doesnt have AAR capability atm), ie buying from Boeinmg direct to lower costs.
Sentinel may yet also have a place after Afghanistan, with NATO AGS, and Raython has approached the MoD with ideas on its uses outside its current fit. Unless with our EC-135’s we combine its role into that airframe to come up with a quasi ‘J-STARS/Rivet-Joint’ like platform.

The C-17 can be tacticle in roles such as rough unpaved strip landings, the US frequently exercises this in Red-Flag (its an impressive sight and noise!) and other exercises, whilst the Aussies have also tested it; but I agree that role should be undertaken by Herc or ‘Atlas’.

A good article, so you would prefer a larger number of C-130J’s than a mix of smaller numbers of J’s with A400s? Whilst complimenting the C-17 and lousey PFI Voayagers with 100% MoD owned ones.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 4, 2012 4:17 pm

I’d prefer C-130J-30/C-17/Non-PFI Voyager, perhaps with a little uplift in the C-130 and C-17 numbers.

Peter Elliott
June 4, 2012 7:52 pm

If considering possible E3 Sentry replacements should we also mention Japan’s E767?

Given the larger size of the airframe a wider selection of mission equipment could perhaps be carried? That would allow a single new fleet aircraft to pick up some of our other gapped or threatened capabilities from Rivet Joint, Maritime Patrol and Sentinel.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 4, 2012 8:55 pm

In the early nineties the RAF said it needed at least 34 transports with cargo ramps, to be in the places they needed to be. At the moment the plan is 8 C-17 + 22 A400M = 30, so 4 short.
Of course the 10 short body C-130J could be given the US coastguard conversion for maritime patrol, which still allows the cargo role.
Or 1 more C-17 + 3 A400M to go to the first plan for 25.
If I had designed the A400M, I would have said a maximum payload of 45 tons, not 37. I agree it is slightly too small, but still more useful than a C-130.
A longtime rant is that the Voyager PFI is an abomination. It should be scrapped & all connected to it (including Gordon) sent to the Tower for life.

Mark
Mark
June 4, 2012 10:23 pm

Dont underestimate the amount of hours used on our current c130 fleet they have been hammered for a decade in very harsh terrain if you want the c130Js to continue be prepared to spend a lot of money on them, how the c130K are still going is quite frankly nothing short of miraculous engineering work buy the raf.

an overview update of a400m. http://www.slideshare.net/robbinlaird/airbus-military-product-update-2012

E3D replacement was to have been E10 a 767 based option http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_E-10_MC2A but was terminated. Would say its replacement is now sometime off but prob should be a330 based after boeings underhand tactics on the usaf tanker contract why buy boeing.

Fedaykin
June 4, 2012 11:16 pm

Firstly I am not entirely sure where the A400 payload figures come from in the article but more importantly we need to talk about the payload box. The A400 solves an issue that has always faced C130 in that it can run out of space before hitting its payload limit.

What caused me far more bemusement is this statement:

“With the end of the UK’s Sentry AEW&C service life in sight,”

I haven’t heard about that on the grapevine at any point from any source. The UK Sentry are in airframe terms still young, the 707 is a big old tough bird and the RAF examples with their modern engines don’t have the cycles of civil airliners. The older USAF examples could well see another thirty to forty years of service ahead of them and there is no reason why the RAF examples could not serve just as long. The main problem with the RAF fleet is the lack of funding for the latest block updates leading to component obsolescence issues.

The RAF Sentry are paid for, in service, with plenty of airframe life left and still more then capable of meeting UK requirements. Retiring them and starting a replacement program would be a waste of money.

Challenger
Challenger
June 5, 2012 12:13 am

I agree that the Sentry has plenty of life in it yet, we shouldn’t base this decision on the possible replacement of another capability many years done the line.

We seem to be stuck with the A400m, which is a real problem given its ridiculous cost and medium capability. With the Hercules production line drawing to a close that may perhaps not be a good alternative in any case.

We know we will end up with 8 C17 and 22 A400m. Would looking in-to the purchase of more BAE 146 not be feasible? I’m imagining up-to a dozen of these could deal with internal and low intensity troop carrying which would take a great deal of strain off of the other 30 high-end transports which could then be used for other tasks.

Would another option be a few more C17, or do people think they are just too expensive.

Also who knows, maybe the A400m could see an additional buy later on when the budget is healthier and the price comes down?

Having said that I wouldn’t mind having more A330, providing the price was right and that horrid PFI crap wasn’t included.

michael
michael
June 5, 2012 1:55 am

Firstly good article
The Voyoger PFI hasn’t been the MOD’s most popular project which if we were all truthful wouldn’t have happened if Gordon brown hadn’t been totally anti Armed Forces and opened the purse strings wider in the good times we wouldn’t be in this mess.
I’d look at anyway possible to terminate the PFI purchase the aircraft and buildings the airtanker built at Brize norton then keep the C-130’s flying say 10 using the rest as spares and attrition or purchase the C-295 and use as temporary MPA and cargo aircraft till a better MPA could be procured.I’d like more C-17’s but there too expensive and wait for the next tactical airlifter Lockheed Martin are proported to be designing. The UOR Bae 145’s should be stored rather than sold as we had these aircraft before and sold them so basically we bought these aircraft twice.
Good Planning

martin
Editor
June 5, 2012 4:48 am

@ Chris – Interesting read. However I see little merit in buying commercial transport aircraft. On occasions that we do need them we will need far more than we have. Most of the time post Afghanistan they won’t be needed. If we do need them then we can generally find that the private sector will provide a large capability that we only have to pay for when we use it.
I do take your point about AAR. However given our ability to supply up to 13 or so A330 tankers in a crisis should we really take this further in coalition operations. These planes are not cheap and they cost a lot to run.
The main advantage in my mind of the A400M is its ability to operate as a tanker as well as a cargo aircraft. Converting around half of our fleet as an austere tanker combined with the 13 voyagers would give us an immense capability to provide AAR to non US lead coalitions while allowing us the flexibility of maintaining a large tactical transport fleet.
If we could get out of the FSTA PFI then I see merit in the suggestion but adding in even more A330s to the mix seem’s expensive to me without providing an improved capability.

Marcase
Marcase
June 5, 2012 5:34 am

Hello ArmChairCivvy,

What I meant to say is that the Herc is pretty well at the end of its modification/improvements run. Any further improvements will result in an actual new designed plane, considering the J-model is (and I quote LM) “the pinnacle of the Hercules design”.

So even if India et al order additional C-130s, that will be basically it for that sterling bird. It will soldier on supported by aftermarket suppliers, but LM will turn it over and move on to other projects (wether that is a good LM strategy is another matter).

Any future C-130X models will have to fight the “new” generation KC-390 and AN-77 which will by then hitting the tarmac. Though my money would be on the KC-390 and less on the An-77 considering its checkered history and future, regardless of its engineering feats.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 5, 2012 7:52 am

Hi Martin,

I agree this would be the way to go ” Converting around half of our fleet as an austere tanker combined with the 13 voyagers would give us an immense capability to provide AAR to non US lead coalitions while allowing us the flexibility of maintaining a large tactical transport fleet.”

The amazing speed at which these conversions can be done (of course, with A400m it has been designed in, so will be very fast indeed) is attested to here http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafcms/mediafiles/F21F8E7A_BD8A_55BA_43FA63F04FC5D6B4.pdf

Anyone know if the AAR of a helo has been tested, as the speed difference should not be a problem (USMC do it routinely with their Hercs)?

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 5, 2012 8:35 am

Hi Challenger, from yesterday “medium only gives you the worst of both worlds without any obvious benifit.”
– I would still say the same as in my comment then
– but neither of us (?) had the Life Cycle Cost information vs. tactical capacity which is on the slide 33 of the Airbus Military Update thread

Looks to me that RAF is getting their mix right (save for the unpressurised delivery van, in small numbers; maybe the defensive aids are just too expensive to install in anything smaller than the BAE146? For that one the design already existed because of the Royal Flight, so the cost was just incremental, not full to include design and testing)

Simon
June 5, 2012 8:55 am

Just out of curiosity but am I right in suggesting that we’re at a point that lots and lots of our equipment requires replacement? Or is it just like this all the time?

Shame we have less than no money at the mo :-(

Why don’t we schedule asset replacement to run over the 30 (or so) years that they last? Seems we need to replace carriers, destroyers, attack subs, frigates, strike jets, light copters, APCs, heavy lift, tankers and AEW/AWACS all within a few years of each other… isn’t that nearly everything?

Mike
Mike
June 5, 2012 9:41 am

Simon

Indeed, this is what happens after a decade of intense operations in Afghanistan, add on Iraq and key; political/service dithering.

Though the E3 is good for another decade before needing airframe mods…its just software thats the issue.

Its a shame all these big-ticket assets are concentina-ing (is that a word?) in their need for replacement/renewal…does make in-fighting for funds worse :C

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 5, 2012 9:57 am

Hi Mike,

Project Eagle, to turn them into independent A2A combat centres, was cancelled. No doubt there are other needs that are of higher priority,
RE “Though the E3 is good for another decade before needing airframe mods…its just software thats the issue”

I just wonder how many bn’s disappear from the top of the budget when the UORs that are in use and are chosen to be kept will need to be funded, RE
“does make in-fighting for funds worse”

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 10:12 am

@ Fedaykin
“Firstly I am not entirely sure where the A400 payload figures come from in the article”
— Airbus, pre their 2012 promotional brochure.

“What caused me far more bemusement is this statement:“With the end of the UK’s Sentry AEW&C service life in sight,””
— The Sentry is over 30 years old now and the 707 line has ceased a while back. With engine upgrades they might make it into the middle of the next decade and maybe even up to 2030. With the relative snails pace that defence often works at, especially for a low order number program, you need to be thinking now about what you’re going to do to replace them. Mark pointed out the E-10 program, which had it been successful would have seen Sentry coming out of service over this decade.

Thus my proposal above for a Voyager based system would start coming together for proposals and testing probably at the end of this decade.

@ Michael,
“I’d like more C-17′s but there too expensive,”
— They’re about $200 million dollars compared to the A400M currently working at figures of around $140 million, and given that the C-17 is in production and still attracting orders while A400M is still struggling along to get ready for service. Given the large leap in performance that a C-17 represents, I think they’re worth it.

@ Martin
“Interesting read. However I see little merit in buying commercial transport aircraft”
— TD did a post a while back on the Voyager PFI. In it he noted that about 40 large pallets (463L Master Pallet) worth of stuff is flown into Afghanistan per day. One of the proposed new Voyager aircraft above could handle 75% of that. A follow on flight could bring the remaining 8 along with over 200 troops if needed.

The key to these aircraft is 1) their ability to supplement the long range tanker fleet and 2) there ability to free up the C-17’s by handling a lot of the passenger and bulk freight missions, over vast distances and in a more economical manner.

Take for example the repatriation of lost British soldiers. This is a task that would be much better suited to the Voyager, freeing up the C-17 for heavy military loads such as vehicles. It’s about efficient load distribution, the hallmark of any truly good logistical organisation.

“However given our ability to supply up to 13 or so A330 tankers in a crisis should we really take this further in coalition operations. These planes are not cheap and they cost a lot to run.”
— Air to air tanking is one of the prime assets that we bring to the table, especially as so many nations did as they did in Libya, e.g. providing a small number of fighter jets to the party. If we’re anticipating the US to look to the Pacific, then that demand for our AAR will only increase. And relatively speaking an A330 is not that bad cost wise, given the design and low maintenance cost. I’d imagine the MoD will bill the other nations later for fuel use.

When you consider that C-130 can be converted to tanking to if needed, that gives us a lot of capability over different ranges.

@ Marcase
“Any future C-130X models will have to fight the “new” generation KC-390 and AN-77 which will by then hitting the tarmac”
— Marshall Aerospace has a good track record looking after Hercs, and recently won a new contract. The KC-390 is a powerpoint project at the minute. There is no replacement small, tactical lifter outside really of Airbus’s C-295 system, which is an inadequate C-130 replacement.

Now maybe down the line, once A400 has come down in price and the C-130’s have well and truly run their course, then maybe we could make that switch. But not now.

@Simon,
“Just out of curiosity but am I right in suggesting that we’re at a point that lots and lots of our equipment requires replacement? Or is it just like this all the time?”
— Stuff will always be going of service and need replacing. In the same way now that we’re trying to stagger out our ship building requirements now, so those same ships in the future will reach the retirement stage one after the other. Such is the pace of change.

Fedaykin
June 5, 2012 11:46 am

@ Chris.B

“– The Sentry is 30 years old now and the 707 line has ceased a while back. With engine upgrades they might make it into the middle of the next decade and maybe even up to 2030. With the relative snails pace that defence often works at, especially for a low order number program, you need to be thinking now about what you’re going to do to replace them. Mark pointed out the E-10 program, which had it been successful would have seen Sentry coming out of service over this decade.”

Sorry but utter tosh! Sentry is just over 20 years being delivered in 1991 and in cycle terms they are virtually new! When it comes to engines you suggest that somehow with with modifications they can limp into the next decade!? RAF Sentry are fitted with CFM56 a modern in production engine which have not done anywhere near the kind of miles that a civilian airliner using them would do!!! Parts are plentiful in production and available from multiple sources. If they really were wearing out (which I very much doubt) new examples can be purchased and hung on the wing at commercial rates for a relatively low price. The E-10 program was cancelled because the E3 with upgrades could perform the task and the EVEN OLDER USAF examples could operate for another thirty years minimum! So the idea that newer RAF examples can barely make it into the next decade is frankly absurd! Heck the USAF operates even older aircraft like the B52 with plans to operate them for another forty years! The RAF RC135 being converted in the States were built in the 1960s!

The major problem with RAF Sentry is funding for a new Block upgrade with the MOD faffing around contracting it out rather then just following the USAF Block 40/45 upgrade.

Sorry if I come over as rudely blunt but it appears to me you have put together a pet theory about future a330 Voyager uses and are trying to fit things to it. Suggesting that somehow the Sentry AEW.1 is on its last legs when facts clearly show otherwise is as I have said earlier absurd! The cost difference between retaining Sentry.AEW 1 and upgrading it for the next 30 years vs retiring it and adopting a new type is massive!

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 5, 2012 12:03 pm

Comparing unit cost against max payload is only one aspect. You have to consider efficiency, ie how many cargo ton-miles per gallon do you get from each option – which won’t necessarily give the same ranking as minimum mpg when empty, as naturally you’d expect the smaller aircraft to use less fuel. And also fleet productivity, ie if we have 22 large A400M, how many more smaller C130 do we have to maintain in order to shift a given load across a given distance.
Also consider things like cross-loading. If you have C17 flying into a hub and A400M flying on to more austere airfields, how much more faffing about to transfer loads into smaller C130, and how many more loads can be transferred directly to an A400.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 12:29 pm

@ Fedaykin

“Sorry but utter tosh! Sentry is just over 20 years being delivered in 1991”
— Our Sentry’s may be, but the Sentry design is 30 years old.

“RAF Sentry are fitted with CFM56 a modern in production engine”
— Ours are fitted with the CFM56 Block 2. The current production model is the block 7. Those are effectively two different engines. You can’t just bodge components from the block 7 onto the block 2.

“If they really were wearing out (which I very much doubt) new examples can be purchased and hung on the wing at commercial rates for a relatively low price”
— Not really. You’d have to buy the Block 7 (or I believe the 5 might still be in production). You’d have to buy completely new engines and go all the way through the testing and certification process again.

“Suggesting that somehow the Sentry AEW.1 is on its last legs”
— I didn’t. All I said in the article was “With the end of the UK’s Sentry AEW&C service life in sight”, which it is. Another 10-15 years maybe. In terms of designing, approving and constructing aircraft, 10-15 years is not a large leap. You need to be thinking about their replacements and how you’re going to go about it now. Just because someone else managed to reap extra life out of an old airframe does not mean that a) you can do the same and b) that it is an adivsable thing to do.

Unless you’re suggesting we should hit up a US boneyard and find some Phantoms with a bit of life left in them. Maybe they could replace the F-35 on the Carriers?

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 5, 2012 12:31 pm

So typical!?
“The major problem with RAF Sentry is funding for a new Block upgrade with the MOD faffing around contracting it out rather then just following the USAF Block 40/45 upgrade.”
– one would think that keeping the ones flying with mixed NATO manning and the UK ones roughly in line would make sense (if the price of upgrade puts them in line with USAF, too, no harm done)

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
June 5, 2012 12:49 pm

@ Brian Black – According to the sales broachre TD has posted 13 A400M can do the same job as 29 “previous generation tactical airlifters” with 35% lower lifecycle costs (p33/44). How much of that is sales spin and how it would work in reality I can’t say…

Fedaykin
June 5, 2012 12:54 pm

No Chris.B you are now twisting things because your ideas have been called out as silly. You were clearly suggesting they are on their last legs…they are not.

You were suggesting the engines were a major issue…they are low hours in comparison to civilian engines and parts are plentiful.

You suggest that putting new CFM56,whatever block it is at as problematic…Boeing and CFM are well used to putting new engines on 707 and KC135. If the RAF requested new CFM56 to replace the old ones the costs and time doing it would be paltry in comparison to inducting an entirely new type. For that matter what engines are being fitted to the RAF RC135?! CFM have been bidding engine updates for the KC135 and the RIVET joint fleet up to very recently. Clearly they have some idea along with Boeing about how to do it!

That it is a thirty year old design is immaterial, the USAF and RAF have kept far older types in service and relevant. The airframe is young in civil airline terms and block upgrades are there to keep it at the forefront of capability. You are suggesting binning a supportable fairly new aircraft that can operate for another thirty to forty years to support your pet theory.

Where is the seed money to do research into your new AEW&C type? You talk about 10-15 year time scales. The Sentry AEW.1 can operate for at least another thirty years that means giving your worse case 15 year planning cycle means we don’t even need to think about it to 2025-27.

Again you are thinking up problems about a perfectly capable paid for type to fit around the problem you have in your mind so it fits into a pet theory about the a330 Voyager. You made a very clear statement that the Sentry.AEW 1 was on its last decade of service…there is utterly no evidence of that and its clearly a concept you have plucked out of thin air!

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 1:24 pm

@ Fedaykin
“You were clearly suggesting they are on their last legs…they are not”
— No. I clearly said that end of their service life was in sight, which it is, in the same sense that the end of the Type 23 is in sight, without it being suggested it is a knackered old crone.

“You were suggesting the engines were a major issue…they are low hours in comparison to civilian engines and parts are plentiful,”
— Again, the Block 7 in production now is a completely different engine to the block 2. You can just switch order a compressor fan for the new model and then bodge it into the old model.

“If the RAF requested new CFM56 to replace the old ones the costs and time doing it would be paltry in comparison to inducting an entirely new type”
— 4 brand new engines per aircraft, over 6 airframes. That’s 24 new engines just to start with. These then have to be certified. That does cost money you know.

“CFM have been bidding engine updates for the KC135 and the RIVET joint fleet up to very recently. Clearly they have some idea along with Boeing about how to do it!”
— Yes CFM also bid for the replacement engines on the Yanks Sentry aircraft, except Pratt and Whitney came in cheaper.

“You are suggesting binning a supportable fairly new aircraft that can operate for another thirty to forty years to support your pet theory”
— Actually the stunning thing about your tirade is that this small aspect of the article (the possible replacement for Sentry) was presented at the end, as an afterthought, a sort of bonus if you will, and has no real impact on the main premise of the article (which is centered around cargo lift). If it didn’t happen it would not change the main thrust of the “pet theory”.

I do find it remarkable you’re extreme confidence in Sentry though as a an aircraft that will push on into the 2040’s. Only in April the entire fleet was grounded (again) for inspection. We only operate six of the original seven aircraft because one has been gutted for spares. Or were we not supposed to mention that?

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 2:02 pm

@ Fedaykin

Look I even did a bit of leg work for you and found the quote that I remembered from Northrop Grumman;

“Working in partnership with the Sentry Project Team, the Northrop Grumman team provides the complete range of through-life services, including capability sustainment modernisation needed to support the Sentry E-3D AWACS aircraft through to its 2025 out-of-service date,”

There, hopefully that helps.

Fedaykin
June 5, 2012 2:04 pm

Well I call BS on that…call a tirade if you wish.

topman
topman
June 5, 2012 2:08 pm

@ chris b i know it’s only a minor point in your article but i don’t see any reason why they would go on for many years i don’t think 20 years more is too unreasonable. I don’t think the fact the fleet was grounded for inspections or that one has been written off, after all it was a ground incident, should give you reason to think it won’t get into 2040.

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 5, 2012 2:08 pm

Thanks, Gareth. I was just looking for some directly comparable numbers between 400 and 130, and notice that the Airbus Military site has a similar comparison between A400 and ‘previous gen’ airlifters (do they have a specific model in mind?) and the figures used there are eight A400M against 18 previous generation aircraft at a lifecycle cost of 55 per cent of the previous gen fleet.

Mark
Mark
June 5, 2012 2:09 pm

The uk ordered its 8th c17 for 300m dollars did we get done?

Rivet joint I think will also have the latest cfm 56 engines

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 2:44 pm

@ Fedaykin,

“Well I call BS on that..”

Well in that case you’re calling BS on the company that is managing the support for AWACS. On balance, I trust their knowledge of the program a little more than I trust you. Of course it’s conceivable that they might find a way to push it out further, you never know.

What I don’t understand is why you’re getting so heated over what it is a relatively minor point, what was essentially just a “and this could be a bonus feature” type thing right at the end.

Fedaykin
June 5, 2012 2:59 pm

Northrop Grumman is interested in the RAF buying the 737AEW&C so what they have to say on the matter is suspect. I have heard nothing on the grapevine that the MOD actually plans to retire them.

You raise issues with maintenance and airframes being cannibalised…that has nothing to do with the remaining life of the aircraft just MOD penny pinching.

Block 2 Block 7 so what, parts are plentiful now to keep what are young engines going and if we need new ones we tap CFM to make an offer.

24 new engines and certification is nothing in comparison to adopting a new type and you seem to avoid the point that the engines in airline terms are young.

CFM lost out to Pratt on the RIVET Joint replacing engines… cost is only part of the story. The main issue was the larger fan on the CFM interfered with the sensor. Again are you saying Boeing and CFM have problems fitting new engines to old types?

The USAF with their even older Sentry clearly plan to keep them for many more years and the RAF is inducting even older RC135 which are also getting new CFM, so much for your certification issues.

I am not particularly heated over it but what is clearly a pet theory or “bonus” as you keep on calling it that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny needed some debunking. As for what you have to say over the a400 again there are huge holes in your thinking…the figures don’t add up. Our current C130J are thrashed and you still haven’t answered the main issue with the type which is a small cargo box meaning they often run out of space before they run out of payload.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 5, 2012 3:14 pm

Hi BB,

As you can see (from the slides,33rd specifically, on the TD thread):
– they made it 35%, again not specifying the comparison

RE “eight A400M against 18 previous generation aircraft at a lifecycle cost of 55 per cent of the previous gen fleet”

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 3:33 pm

@ Fedaykin,

“I am not particularly heated over it but what is clearly a pet theory or “bonus” as you keep on calling it that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny needed some debunking”
— Except you didn’t. Like I said, Northrop Grumman, the people who run the support contract, have the out of service date at 2025. Forgive me but you, like me, are just a name sitting behind a computer. Northrop Grumman, the people who know considerably more about it than any of us here seem to agree with my rough time frame. I’d say you’ve got a long way to go before you “debunk” anything.

“Block 2 Block 7 so what, parts are plentiful now to keep what are young engines going and if we need new ones we tap CFM to make an offer”
— This is what makes me the most suspicious. You wave away the difference between the Block 2 and Block 7 as if it’s nothing, a minor inconvenince. They are different engines. The majority of the parts for a block 7 will not be compatible with the original engine. I would be very surprised if parts for the Block 2 were made at all now. Generally companies try to encourage people to move on from their old products. Unless the UK plans to buy engines off the Iranian 707’s that are still going.

And I would very much doubt that a seven aircraft fleet running the same engines for 20 years would have been able to keep the engines in “young” condition.

“the RAF is inducting even older RC135 which are also getting new CFM, so much for your certification issues
— Those are the youngest of the bunch, with about 20,000 odd hours left on them. And again, you’re talking about brand new CFM, not the block 2. And yes, they will need to be certified, unless you’re now trying to tell me that you can fly whatever aircraft and engine combo you choose with out getting a ticket for it?

“As for what you have to say over the a400 again there are huge holes in your thinking…the figures don’t add up”
— You moaned about the Airbus figures. They were taken from Airbus. So call them up and have a word with them.

“Our current C130J are thrashed”
— They’ve only been in service for about ten or so years and Marshall Aerospace recently won a deal to do maintenance and upgardes on them. Thrashed is not the word I would use.

“.. you still haven’t answered the main issue with the type which is a small cargo box meaning they often run out of space before they run out of payload”
— The whole point of purchasing the “Voyager KC4” proposed here would be to allow the C-17’s to deal with most of the oversized and odd military stuff. The C-130 have served us well for a while now, I would expect that to continue. Alright, they might not be able to fly helicopters inside, but for most of what we ask them to do, they are fine.

The problem you’re having is attaching far too much importance to that AEW bit at the end.

Topman
Topman
June 5, 2012 8:14 pm

@ Mark

‘I will declare I had the pleasure of being on a400ms design team for several years so maybe a little bias. It also has a better landing gear than herc for the rough landings’

Mark as someone who worked on the design team could you answer a few questions? could you say how, in what way it is better? What sort of maintenance is req’d pre planned and post rough strip landing and how does that compare to the C130? What sort of eng and supply support are planned in from the beginning from Airbus, will 2nd line be done by Airbus? What sort of multinational support is planned for support supply and eng, is it similar to the planned multination spares support chain for the F35? Sorry for all the questions just professionally interested in this sort of thing.

Mark
Mark
June 5, 2012 9:15 pm

Hi Topman

Multinational support is to an extend what the government wants it to be. There is a multinational centre for training and maintenance in sevilla but there will also be national centres in france germany and the UK. Aibus offer what they call FISS which will offer maintenance similar to what a330 mrtt is getting in second line and at deployed locations but dont know what the uk has signed up for in relation to a400m.

Airbus have build in a very similar level of health monitoring and ease of maintenance that they use in there civil jets (they also used similar modeling tools that f35 did) in particular they have stretched the heavy maintenance periods (if memory serves it was something like 80days down time over 12 years service for heavy maintenance was projected).

The landing gear im told (not my area ) is more robust with better overall load distribution than whats gone before. It can kneel to help loading not sure if c130 can do that dont know it well enough. The carbon braking system they were quite pleased with too.
The maintenance specific to pre and post rough strip landings in comparison to c130 is something I cant answer.

Fedaykin
June 5, 2012 9:33 pm

“The problem you’re having is attaching far too much importance to that AEW bit at the end.”

The reason is simple what you said and are still saying is stupid and needs to be addressed.

Again the Block 7 thing, not a problem for RC135 but a problem for Sentry AEW.1 as you see it. That is so weak that it is frankly unbelievable. Whatever CFM would offer would be unique anyway. Anyway it doesn’t remove the fact that the current engines are young in airline terms with no parts supply issues.

Mycoman
Mycoman
June 5, 2012 9:44 pm

An idea I’ve been mulling: could the RAF operate TD’s forward presence flights using tankers? Not Voyagers, necessarily: possibly light tankers (ex civvie 757s?), but with added, or addable, ISR equipment. I don’t need to rehash the benefits to us of these ostensibly non-belligerent detachments but they could also provide the host nation with a useful resource for cross training and operations. Could be a real force multiplier for us and them.

And while I’m here, and off topic, re light transports: RUAG Do228 anyone?

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 10:09 pm

@ Fedaykin

“Again the Block 7 thing, not a problem for RC135 but a problem for Sentry AEW.1 as you see it. That is so weak that it is frankly unbelievable”

— Because, and you’re pushing my patience, the engines in the Sentry are Block 2, not block 7. They are not “young” by any stretch of the imagination, unless you’re talking young in a “Triggers Broom” sense of the word. You cannot just bodge parts from a block 7 into a block 2, for reasons that should be astoundingly bloody obvious.

You can re-engine the Sentry with block 7 engines, but it will cost money. You seem to think they can just whip them out and replace them for price of a newspaper and a packet of 20 John Players Specials.

The Airseeker program for example is £700 million for 3 aircraft exclu. support costs (another £500m to 2025). Granted, they’re going to have a lot of Gucci kit installed in them, part of which is the new engines.

If my proposal for a “Voyager KC4” became a reality and then it was later decided to buy additional Voyager and convert them into some AESA based AWACS, yes, I imagine that would cost more than sticking new engines on a Sentry, but by the time that became a consideration the Sentry would be looking long in the tooth anyway and you’d be buying brand spanking new aircraft with their attendent extension in useful life.

To clarify, I’m not proposing the end of Sentry tomorrow or anything quite so hasty.

I just get thoroughly annoyed when some twonk comes along and starts banging on about calling people out etc when you don’t appear to have done even the basic research.

Believe it or not, some of us spend quite a bit of time thoroughly checking things before committing them to (electronic) paper. I recommend you try it some time.

Challenger
Challenger
June 5, 2012 10:40 pm

10 C17’S (extra 2)
30 A400m’s (another 8 when possible)
10 or more BAE 146’s (low intensity passenger freight)
14 A330 MRTT (providing reserve transport capability)

Sound like a good or even feasible force mix?

Id obviously like more, but that to me sounds around about the kind of minimum baseline we should be aiming for.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 10:50 pm

@ Challenger,

Providing we can find about another £1.5-2bn after 2015. That’s part of the problem we have, is not knowing what the economic situation will be post 2015.

Challenger
Challenger
June 5, 2012 11:02 pm

B

I know, it’s a real problem not knowing what money will be available and when.

I was thinking of any additional A400m or C17 being purchased incrementally, thus hopefully spreading the costs out a bit. Also filling out the fleet with cheap stuff like BAE 146 ot any other kind of converted airliners sounds appealing. Surely they would be fine for flying troops in-to relative a safe zone.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 5, 2012 11:38 pm

Well BAE did try and flog a military version of the cargo 146 at one point, with a refuelling probe added. I think it died a quiet death soon after. There’s probably some old 146’s you could convert. I think you only get about 90 passengers though, not sure how much freight you’d get on it.

Topman
Topman
June 5, 2012 11:53 pm

@ Mark

Thanks for that.

@ Chris B

There’s quite a few I understand still used around Europe and quite a few in storage, the three 146s we have are UOR I believe. I can’t see them lasting beyond 2015/6 but we will see.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 6, 2012 12:13 am

Stupid thing is, the 60-100 passenger market has exploded. Embraer have a backlog of something like a 200 orders to fill. Might be some money in someone doing a licensed fulfillment to ease the pressure? Or a new BAE-146, make it twin engined to save a bit of drag. It’s cheaper now to get a flight from London to Edinborough than it is to get the bloody train.

Fedaykin
June 6, 2012 12:51 pm

“Trying your patience”…”some twonk”!

Now that is just childish!

Again the engine thing…no I don’t think it is just a job of whipping them on the wings…I am not moron! BUT it is going to be vastly cheaper and easier along with continued block updates of Sentry then developing as you grandiosely suggest: “If my proposal for a “Voyager KC4″ became a reality and then it was later decided to buy additional Voyager and convert them into some AESA based AWACS”.

You don’t like your pet ideas being sunk fine…but don’t start insulting the people who present criticism. As far as I understood it Think Defence allowed people to take different view points and disagree if need be….is there an exception when it is one of Chris.B articles? You are suggesting replacing a type that can be kept up to date and maintained at a reasonable cost for decades with entirely new system. Now what budget does your new AEW type come from? You already admit that it would be more expensive then sticking engines on Sentry!

Finally don’t presume to tell me I haven’t done any research when you clearly haven’t and are more interested in pedalling your pet ideas. You stuck it on the end of your article and called it a bonus, I have given reasons why I think you are VERY wrong…take it or leave it.

I’m done.

x
x
June 6, 2012 1:27 pm

Is there anything in the Voyager PFI contract concerning cargo exclusivity?

And I know in the whackier corners of the web there is some talk of using low hours 747F for military lift. 81tonnes and enough space for 4 (perhaps 5) TEUs isn’t to be sniffed at. Anything to take some load off the hi-tech tactical lifters. Worth exploring or not?

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 6, 2012 4:14 pm

@ X
“Is there anything in the Voyager PFI contract concerning cargo exclusivity?”
— I don’t believe so, no. I think there’s penalties for using commercial passenger flights though.

“Anything to take some load off the hi-tech tactical lifters. Worth exploring or not?”
— That’s the basic premise of this article, to use the very capable A330-200F (essentially what Voyager is based on) to carry the burden of some of the less difficult to handle cargo such as pallets, troop lift (using palletised seats), large medical evactuation flights etc, which frees up the C-17 fleet to handle the more tricky loads that require its cabin size and rear ramp, and to ease the general demands on their time and airframe hours.

@ Fedaykin,
“then developing as you grandiosely suggest”
— I assumed that most people would treat it for what it was, an article meant to provoke thought, interest, some alternative ideas, a slightly different perspective. Nobody, including me, realistically believes that Phil Hammond is sitting in his office somewhere scratching his chin going “You know, I think this fella is on to something. Maybe I’ll give him a call,”. It’s a hypothetical scenario, my hypothetical scenario, thus “If my proposal…” is suitable in this context. Perhaps I should have gone with “In my proposal…” if that had served you better.

“You don’t like your pet ideas being sunk fine…but don’t start insulting the people who present criticism”
— If you want to offer a critique, then by all means. You however came flying through the door proclaiming that you had “debunked” the idea etc, as with your comment above about being sunk. Except you’ve done nothing of the kind. You’ve produced nothing that would “debunk” anything. Not to mention your obsession with believeing that the AEW&C issue is fundamental to the proposal above, which it is not. The proposal above concerns Heavy Lift (the clue is in the title). Also see the reply above to x. The AEW&C is an aside, a bonus, along with the MPA and airborne ISTAR issues.

“As far as I understood it Think Defence allowed people to take different view points and disagree if need be….is there an exception when it is one of Chris.B articles?”
— No, but if you’re going to accuse people of lying and start “debunking” things, then you had better have a reasonably bloody good case to answer. Like knowing the difference between two different engines for a start.

“You are suggesting replacing a type that can be kept up to date and maintained at a reasonable cost for decades with entirely new system”
— See, like here. Again, I produced a quote for you from Northrop Grumman, the people who managed the support of the Sentry. They have been told that Sentry will leave service around 2025. They would certainly know more about it than you do. Now it’s possible that Sentry’s life could be pushed out even further, possibly even the decades that you suggest. Without knowing the precise details of the state of the aircraft we cant tell from here. But the person closest to the loop has been informed, or at least believes, that the aircraft will leave service in the mid-2020’s. As a broad rule I would be more inclined to accept their opinion over yours, unless you have some pressing detail about your history or current career that you would like to share that you feel would over rule their position?

“Now what budget does your new AEW type come from? You already admit that it would be more expensive then sticking engines on Sentry!”
— If Sentry was coming out of service then, surprise, surprise Cilla, it would come out of the AEW&C budget. Again, stop thinking about a 2015 timeline and start thinking of this in the mid-20’s. In the proposal above you’d expect to see the new Voyager in service for nearly 10 years before any AEW&C version was needed.

“Finally don’t presume to tell me I haven’t done any research when you clearly haven’t and are more interested in pedalling your pet ideas”
— So where did all the data come from, data that was lacking from your responses? If you’ve done such extensive research then how come you didn’t know there was a difference between a Block 2 and Block 7 version of the CFM56?

“have given reasons why I think you are VERY wrong…take it or leave it”
— By all means do and I appreciate that you’re entitled to your opinion, perhaps thinking we should spend money on the A400M instead or maybe using the money for something else like Albions for the Navy or FRES for the Army. That’s cool. But don’t come waltzing in out of the blue and accuse me of bullshitting and start talking about debunking myths when you don’t appear to have the first clue what you’re talking about.

Mark
Mark
June 6, 2012 4:33 pm

X

I believe way back the 747 was in a contest against the Lockheed c5 for the USAF strategic transport and lost obviously. Civil freighters are great if your flying from Brize to Oman say, no so great if your flying brize to lungi airport on a resupply where the airport in question doesn’t have the infrastructure to unload the plane which is why the drive on and off transport is so popular.

x
x
June 6, 2012 4:59 pm

@ Chris B

One confesses I didn’t read your article. It is TT fortnight. I am not even reading the stuff I type. God only knows what I am saying…..

I have been unhappy with this C17 and A400m mix for a bit. Not for the aircraft themselves. More for what appears to be a blunt instrument to solve all problems. Hence my occasionally mentioning C27 and so on.

@ Mark

Yes 747 was the product of Pentagon programme. I do concede your point about landing a 747 in out of the way places. But that is why we have C17. I am constantly told here we will have access to bases. And there are 747 capable runways all over the world. That apparent centre of gravity for world security (he says tongue in cheek) the Middle East is full of big airports. One would suggest that if we had to move a force it is just as likely to be a nation’s capital with its large international airport. And I hold my hand to being the person who always goes on about war in the margins and at the ends of the earth for resources. But wars are started by humanity who like to live in big groups near large international airports. So I imagine there may well plenty of work for a RAF 747 squadron leaving the back of beyond for C17. :)

Challenger
Challenger
June 6, 2012 8:01 pm

The C17 is and the A400m undoubtedly will be fantastic airframes. They are however very expensive acquisitions which obviously limits the number of each that can be procured. Who knows, maybe post 2015 the budget will be healthy enough to afford additions, but id say it’s more sensible to assume we are going to be left with 30 large and medium strategic/tactical transports.

No matter how marvellous they may be the shortfall in numbers cannot be ignored, it’s the old case of not being able to be in 2 places at once.

To me the situation sounds a bit like the RN’S surface fleet. Their is a choice between having a medium amount of high-end, or a balanced mix of both high and low-end assets.

As ever it doesn’t really feel the RAF has really grasped the situation. Cheap civilian airliner conversions, or as you say Chris B, getting more usage out of the A330. I don’t know what the answer is but it would be nice if the services showed the kind of imagination and flexibility that us lot do, just every once in a while!

Topman
Topman
June 6, 2012 8:07 pm

@ Challenger

‘No matter how marvellous they may be the shortfall in numbers cannot be ignored’

What shortfall is there?

‘Cheap civilian airliner conversions, or as you say Chris B, getting more usage out of the A330. ‘

We have the 146s I believe they are now in Afghan. It can’t really be said we aren’t getting enough use out of the A330 as it’s not really in service yet.

x
x
June 6, 2012 8:15 pm

Challenger
Challenger
June 6, 2012 8:17 pm

@Topman

We have a couple of 146’s that the RAF got hold of as an emergency replacement for the older Hercules going out of service, that’s hardly a comprehensive and thought out decision.

I wasn’t having a go at the A330, I was only concurring with Chris B when he said in his original post that more usage could be squeezed out of them when they eventually get in-to service.

I believe their is a shortfall. The rumour is that the RAF has really struggled with airlift because of the reduction in Hercules numbers and the general strain of Afghanistan. I know the A400m has a greater capacity than the Hercules, but overall 22 of them will replace nearly 40 of the former, do they really provide almost double the capacity? Even if they did it still doesn’t take in-to account the fact that numbers do make a difference. You could have a hypothetical leviathan that could carry thousands of troops or tons of cargo, but it’s still going to suffer from wear and tear and thus still going to be out of action for maintenance.

Topman
Topman
June 6, 2012 8:33 pm

@ Challenger

I see fair enough I just think it’s odd why people say we should use them more, they are asking to move from a level of usage that doesn’t yet exsist to another unspecified number.

As to the shortfall; currently that’s been made up some what by the 146s which as you say are there to ‘the reduction in Hercules numbers and the general strain of Afghanistan.’ Civilian companies can also fill in the extra required, we don’t need a 100% capacity at all times. The DPA will keep a base line then top up with civilian charter as req’d, it’s not really cost affective to do it any other way. No-one else does not even the USAF they rely on lots of civilian a/c.

As to the future, who knows what levels of equipment or people will be required to be moved around.

x
x
June 6, 2012 8:35 pm

The runway at Bastion is long enough for 747.

Go figure.

Topman
Topman
June 6, 2012 8:43 pm

@ x

I’ve no doubt they could, haven’t been myself yet, but I understand it’s a busy runway, if it was in the UK it think it would be in the top 5. The USAF use 747s, provided by contractors quite a bit from what I remember, if we need them I would just contract it in.

Mark
Mark
June 6, 2012 8:55 pm

A civil only one will cost about $340m each quite an expensive a/c the 747. 3200m runway requied and some specialist unloading equipment. Can the raf afford them?

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 6, 2012 8:57 pm

@ Topman,

What are they actually using the 146’s for, if you’re allowed to say?

x
x
June 6, 2012 9:03 pm

@ Mark

The idea is we buy second hand ones and use them sparingly to save hours on C17. Surely if you can fly C17 you can fly a 747? Isn’t that normal career progression for an RAF pilot?

@ Topman

No we need aircraft on hand to go when we need them. Not if some parcel carrier from the Mid-West can fit us insometime between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

Topman
Topman
June 6, 2012 9:24 pm

@ Chris B

It’s nothing very secret from what I know, although I will add I’m not involved with this UOR at all. So what I do know isn’t a great deal more than online. I know it’s to bolster the cargo capacity across the ME, the 146s from 32 Sqn did this role however thet weren’t ideal. A more cargo based solution was looked at to lift the capacity short haul across the area. I believe there are out there now.

Aside from that I do think it odd that the idea was looked at when both Telic and Herrick were both running and was dismissed by those far up the CoC, yet a couple of years later it was brought in. I never found out why it was dismissed and accepted just a few years apart.

@ x

We do already, we supplement large scale ops/high sustained air bridges with civ contracts. I would imagine it’s similar to RFA with what they buy in extra from civ companies.

Mark
Mark
June 6, 2012 9:41 pm

Not sure of your logic there x. C17 is very expensive to operate, 747 more so, again very different cargo sets and if you have cargo on a 747 you need specialist equipment to offload it. offloading 400+ bods at a time may prove problematic at some raf stations. The c17 are currently spoke flying into afghan which is pushing up hours. From a flying point you can fly anything if taught but i doubt you could be rated on both at the same time.

What the civil airlines and indeed the military are now thinking is you fly point to point its cheaper saves on a/c operating costs dont see how 747 helps there (they only really operate on very high density routes). This means defensive aid fitted a/c with range and reasonably gd short take-off landing performance. At present vc-10 cant carry passengers we have 8 tri stars availability unknown to me I think only 3 are pure passenger ones and all carry less than the a330. Hercs are working so hard all are approaching major service intervals and need some relief.

A330 will relieve pressure but a change to DAS requirements on the a/c is holding that up and getting them into service take time. A330 (28 a330 sorties would move the entire afghan force personnel wise) and a400 will offer a excellent capability at a cheaper cost to a c17/747 combo imo. We can then keep c17 for moving the really big out-sized stuff so needed in expeditionary

Topman
Topman
June 6, 2012 9:50 pm

@ Mark

‘At present vc-10 cant carry passengers’ Not strictly true, they can on some flights with it being signed off. I think on a case by case basis. I flew on one just a few months ago. Although in effect it’s rare and small amounts it’s not much in the grand scheme of things.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 6, 2012 10:33 pm

@ Topman,
— Cheers. I guess that makes sense to use a 146 as short haul run around for <10 ton cargo.

@ Mark,
"A330 (28 a330 sorties would move the entire afghan force personnel wise) and a400 will offer a excellent capability at a cheaper cost to a c17/747 combo imo. We can then keep c17 for moving the really big out-sized stuff so needed in expeditionary"
— That's really hit the nail on the head and perhaps I should have developed this point in more detail in the article. The extra A330 proposed would be used to take up the bulk of the direct flights to Afghanistan and back. Repatriation flights, bulk medical extractions, bulk palletised cargo, large personnel moves. All the kind of things for which a C-17 is really overkill.

With the superb range and payload capacity of the A330 you would be able to fly the vast majority of those flights direct country to country and at a reduced cost compared to the C-17's. The goal would be to essentially "protect" the C-17 and save its availability (and it's lifespan) for tasks which are more appropriate for it, such as carrying the over sized/odd loads like vehicles and helicopters.

When dealing with flights into less prepared/less capable airports, the C-17 could be sent in first carrying the equipment (stairs, lifts, forklifts) needed to unload the A330's which could follow on later.

The only difference to your suggestion is that I would use the left over cash from not buying A400M to buy additional, shiny new C-130J-30's, probably about 16 (assuming 8xA330 @ about $220 million each, A400M assumed price @ $140 million each, C-130J-30 @ $80 million each).

x
x
June 6, 2012 10:34 pm

So you are telling me there is no cheap way to move 3 containers by air? Well that isn’t very good.

For $145,000,000 about the cost of one A400m this will move 13,000 containers.

http://jiyolive.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2.jpg

Bottomless pit air transport isn’t it? ;)

Opinion3
Opinion3
June 6, 2012 10:37 pm

Chris B. Good article. Sadly the PFI Voyager is an incredibly expensive and daft contract. It is obvious to even a layman that there is no way that a commercial airline would pay the sort of costs charged for the Voyager despite being essentially a A330.

Repatriations and MEDEVAC on C17s doesn’t sound right to me. Palletised A330 flights sounds much more sensible. Having said that I suspect the flow of material is outbound and the inbound flights have the capacity.

It never ceases to amaze me how ships, planes and helicopters are ordered with “missing” capabilities. Whilst I would need some persuading that creating a new militarised airframe for ISTAR/AEW&C/MPA ASTOR it certainly would be great to be using a newer and more standard family of aircraft for these platforms. Sadly we have ships and submarines without antiship defences and CIWS, tanker aircraft that cant refuel our C17s and very shortly aircraft carriers without planes.

Personally I would prioritise in the following order

C130Js : Staggered that these could be “dead” so soon. First introduced in 1999 (so not even 13 years old). The C130 is the longest running production miltary aircraft, these things seem to last forever. Having said that, I accept I have heard from multiple sources that there is a view that a SLEP would be seriously expensive. I’d do it if it made sense.

Atlas : current order 22 increase to 30 with the additional 8 units being fitted for aerial refueling (1 based permanently in Falklands). This would finally provide refueling capability to our helicopters (some fitted for but not with probes). I would consider conversion of palletised additional capabilities as and when funds provided for Intel/HarvestHawk style capabilities.

Voyager : I would consider using one of these planes for what was previously (rudely) referred to as Blair Force One. It seems utterly crazy UK Plc and HM Government to be flying the PM his advisers and business bigwigs to India in a BA Boeing jet whilst trying to sell Bae/Airbus. Given these bigwigs are paying for their flights not flying cattle-class doesnt seem unreasonable, and the PM/Royals having privacy/rest capabilities doesn’t seem unreasonable either. The current jets being permanently fitted with seats would be less suitable than palletised arrangements. Furthermore as mentioned by Chris.B the AAR cant refuel the C17s (nor probably RivetJoint). Given the C17s would struggle to get to the Falklands should it be needed this is an example of a half-baked capability that needs to be available. Time to consider some more A330s? I like Chris’s idea, cargo and boom capable. Able to take palletised medivac, seats and even fuel. I’d get 4 more.

I’d leave it at that. The RAF, in my view, is the least honest of the three services about its issues/messups/needs. Afganistan has been a very unique conflict in that it is land locked. Indeed in many ways it is also surrounded by hostile land and is uniquely dependent on aircraft for supplies. The RAF have done a sterling job, mostly they have coped and that in itself is an indication that maybe this is a resource and capability that we have and do not need to expand upon. Our amphibious/non RORO capabilities perhaps instead should be reviewed.

x
x
June 6, 2012 11:25 pm

@ Option 3

Most of the suppliers went in overland. And a good chunk of UK supplies delivered by air was taken in by contractors.

Challenger
Challenger
June 7, 2012 12:05 am

@Option 3 and x

You’re comments about the extent of the contribution RAF heavy lift has made in land-locked Afghanistan are interesting because it brushes on something I was thinking about earlier.

Huge amounts of supplies, personnel and other equipment have been flown in-to Afghanistan. However a couple of very good points are how much of this has been put on chartered aircraft as opposed to actual RAF assets and also how do these figures compare to the amount that has been sent over land?

This is the problem I find with heavy lift in general. We know we can’t have the kind of power that provides real strategic capabilities, that would require something like the hundreds of C17’S and Hercules the Americans operate and just isn’t possible.

So if we can’t have a heavy lift fleet that can actually influence events by projecting power, what exactly do we need?

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 7, 2012 12:43 am

@ Option 3,

Cheers for stopping by, reading, and sharing your thoughts. Not sure as we can afford to up the Atlas buy. It wasn’t long ago that the gov reduced it from 25 to 22, based on our part of what was tantamount to a bail out of the project.

@ Challenger,

Horses for courses. The bulk of the supplies going into Afghanistan such as fuel go through a couple of land based routes through Pakistan, coming in at Pakistani ports, driven by contractors. The fees charged by Pakistan and the money that has to be paid to keep people away from the supply routes is quite a source of irritation given that Pakistan are supposed to be our allies in this one!

Thus the air bridge can take some of the burden off. You’d also much prefer to have sensitive and/or expensive cargo like troops brought in directly, without having to worry about the wants and whims of contractors or the Pakistani Police and military.

For other operations, air cargo is a trade off. You’re trading speed against cost and capacity. An A330 can fly to a hot spot in a matter of hours taking certain troops and cargo with it, as opposed to days or weeks, but there is a finite limit on how much you can carry and it costs more to fly things than it does to ship them.

Obviously in an all out emergency it’s also better if you can utilise every access point you have, so ship most of the heavy cargo in through the ports while flying the men and some of the lighter cargo in through the airports. Not only do you get men on the ground quicker but the ships that would otherwise have to carry the men would also have to carry enough grub for them all, impacting their cargo margins.

Horses for courses.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 7, 2012 5:35 am

Hi Topman,

The ones finally acquired are ex-TNT and have large cargo side doors (best seen in the piccies here showing them airborne: http://forum.scramble.nl/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=83357 )

RE: A more cargo based solution was looked at to lift the capacity short haul across the area.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 7, 2012 5:49 am

Hi Chris,

What’s this ” based on our part of what was tantamount to a bail out of the project”?

At first I read it as us bailing out, with a parachute. But the project was indeed bailed out with a loan (2.5 bn?) from the participating gvmnts. Unique repayment terms: only becomes payable from export proceeds, over and above the orders that are from participants… so really, quasi-equity, but gets around the WTO rules about subsidies, I guess

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 7, 2012 7:30 am

Hi ACC,

In a nutshell Airbus turned around and said to the partner nations “Blimey chaps, this thing isn’t half costing a lot to develop, so how about you guys give us some more development money or we’ll just pull the plug on the whole thing,”. Should have just called them on it, let them take the hit. The bloody cheek of some of these companies.

Simon
June 7, 2012 8:27 am

I’d be interested to know if air-lift vs. sea-lift ends up at the World wide renowned 80:20 rule (20% of the stuff, 80% of the time vs. 80% of the stuff, 20% of the time)?

Perhaps it’s more like 90:10?

Mark
Mark
June 7, 2012 9:01 am

Chrisb

Well that maybe true Chris but the nations involved were the ones who insisted that they must develop a new engine in Germany ect when they wanted to buy a similar engine off the shelf from p&w. Had airbus been allowed the freedom to design the a/c to the required spec without the political interference it would have in service and cost less. They weren’t bluffing sure it would have been a hit on there profit but there civil jets are much more profitable and sell in very large quantities( they deliver the equivalent of the entire a400m order book every 4 months on the 320 series alone)

x
x
June 7, 2012 10:30 am

@ Chally

We need the sort of fleet Chris B has set out. The things are far too useful. But what we have to guard against is those who think air can be a substitute for sea. It can’t. Physics says it can’t. The technology as it stands says it can’t.

I do wonder how much Afghanistan would cost per day if Afghanistan was say Somalia; that is to say on the coast. A good chunk of that £12million per day, about the cost of a Bay for a year, must be on air freight costs.

Challenger
Challenger
June 7, 2012 10:42 am

B

I take you’re ‘horses for courses’ point. I guess a balance between various methods and assets is necessary both from a practical cost point of view but also from a flexibility standpoint.

@x

Yes that was sort of what I was getting at. A sensible approach is to look at what is affordable and also what provides a complimentary asset. It would be pure madness to start thinking that heavy lift alone can sustain deployments.

It would indeed be interesting to speculate on an Afghanistan scenario taking place in a coastal nation. I think that would have had all kinds of implications, not just on the cost and mix of transport capability.

Fedaykin
June 7, 2012 11:12 am

@ Chris.B

No I have not walked in and accused of lying, I have walked in and pointed out that I think your ideas around Sentry are poorly conceived and researched. In my opinion they are debunk-able as ideas and your retorts have been weak or even childish.

You are still banging on about engine Blocks and are painting it as some major issue. I do know the difference between the blocks and also know that it doesn’t appear to present Boeing or CFM any issues when they are bidding or in the case of our new RC135 delivering new upgrades. In the end they are hung on pylons and it will be five shades of cheaper then paying for your new fantasy AEW. In respect of Northrop Grumman they are not the MOD and their interests lie in the Boeing 737 AEW&C…I have never heard anything out of the MOD about this and going on USAF plans for even older examples of the Sentry plus the recent procurement of the RC135 within the RAF we can presume a long career for the Sentry. As you are more intent on treating me like a moron rather then taking some criticism on the chin that is your problem so by all means carry on insulting me if it makes you feel bigger. As far as I am concerned the whole article has holes a mile wide in it and I am not entirely sure I wasted my time on it.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
June 7, 2012 6:38 pm

RE: Chris.B. says:
June 7, 2012 at 07:30
-yes, that is the way it went
– let’s not forget, though, that there was one French President who said, no-no, we can’t possibly have an engine that exists as it is American (though built in Canada)… let’s design and build a new one

Still, the plane is stepping into a niche where the inhabitants are dying of old age (for the Hercs, that might take 30 years or more!)

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
June 7, 2012 8:42 pm

re; A400M Deal,
Airbus were on the hook for about $5.3 billion dollars worth of repayments if they cancelled the project (the development injection from the partner nations). Financially speaking they’d have made less of a loss by delivering the product (with the added potential of finally winning some exterior orders) than to just cut it. They must have known that.

Re; The cost of Aghanistan supply,
I’d be very surprised if the bulk of that cash is being spent purely on airlift. Don’t forget we’re talking about food, fuel, bombs, bullets, water, batteries and god knows what else for almost 10,000 men. What isn’t flown in has to be shipped to Pakistan and then driven by contractors all the way through the tribal areas to the north. None of that is cheap,

Re; Fedaykin
“No I have not walked in and accused of lying”
— Erm, I think you’ll find you have. You keeping going on about debunking things and holes in the article etc, yet you can’t produce evidence to support your assertion. The only evidence in this isolated argument was brought against you. And your response? “Oh well, Northrop Grumman are only interested in the next big thing”. Their interest, I would imagine, lies where the money is and right now the money is in supporting Sentry. Your whole argument on this issue, your whole “debunking”, centres around people accepting the premise that Northrop Grumman are lying because you haven’t heard something on your personal “grapevine”. That’s a tough ask.

Then we end up going back to the engines. Where do we even start? New engines. Old engines. Not the same. Can’t put most parts from new engine into old engine. That’s about as low as I can break it down.

And you still can’t seem to accept that even if, even if, the AEW&C issue was “debunked” as you put it, it’s an aside, a bonus, what TD himself might call a ‘capability plus’. It would not alone undermine the general premise of the article. You seem to have a lot of difficulty understanding that concept.