The Airbus A400M Atlas – Part 2 (What is So Good about It Anyway)

This is a five part series on the A400M Atlas transport aircraft

Part 1 – Background, Progress and Keeping and Options

Part 2 – What is So Good about the A400M Anyway?

Part 3 – Beyond Tomorrow, a Multi Role Platform

Part 4 – Export Potential

Part 5 – Say Hello to my Little Brother


Beyond its potential as a multi role base platform to cover a number of new and existing mission requirements what is it that makes the A400 Atlas worth all the trouble, we know the C17/C130 combination would be easier as they are both available of the nice shelves of the US defence industry.

This is the crux of the argument for the A400; it has to offer more than just industrial or political benefits for it to be judged a success. Despite the numerous development problems we have to try and look at the aircraft and its specification in isolation, forget the political and industrial backdrop and ask ourselves if it is worth having.

To remind ourselves, the A400M Atlas is officially defined as;

A400M is planned to provide tactical and strategic mobility to all three Services. The required capabilities include: operations from airfields and semi-prepared rough landing areas in extreme climates and all weather conditions by day and night; carrying a variety of equipment including vehicles and troops over extended ranges; air dropping paratroops and equipment; and being unloaded with the minimum of ground handling equipment.

One of the taglines for the A400 is that it can ‘transport what the C130 cannot to places that the C17 can’t’ which neatly sums it up but misses many of the other advantages of the A400.

It is no C17 and it is no C130 either but that is exactly the point, it is not meant to be but it will always be compared to them.

The A400M is designed to replace the C130’s and C160’s in service with the launch customers.

Airbus A400M Cutaway
Airbus A400M Cutaway

Cargo Bay and Payload

The maximum payload of the A400M Atlas has yet to be fully released but the design objective is 37 tonnes compared with 19.1 tonnes for the C130J or 19.6 for the C130J-30 although the USAF C130 datasheetactually shows the normal maximum C130J payload as 15.422 tonnes and 16.329 tonnes for the J and J-30 models respectively.

The weight of a vehicle is usually readily available from open sources and equally the payload of the aircraft, so most high level analyses tend to start here.

However, there are many other factors that need to be taken into account; dimensions, weight distribution, uniformity of shape, securing practice and safety considerations all determine whether an aircraft can carry a vehicle, they will also need to undergo air carriage trials to confirm.

Despite this being the job of qualification and air despatch professionals we can still sneak a peek at those open source numbers and whilst accepting the unknown unknowns that only the professional will know, still get a reasonable idea of feasibility and come to reasonable conclusions.

We also have to be careful to understand what kind of weight we are quoting, is it kerb weight or gross vehicle weight. Kerb weight has a number of different definitions but generally is taken as including the vehicle, a single driver, fuel and fluids but excluding payload. The kerb weight plus maximum payload is often called the gross vehicle weight. For air carriage purposes a vehicle would generally be transported in as light a configuration as possible but if it needs to be ready shortly after it rolls off the ramp for tactical reasons then it might be required to have the full payload and therefore move over the limit for one aircraft or the other.

Equipment might also have its dimensions changed depending on the degree of readiness at the point of embarkation, radio antenna or bar armour could be fitted quickly after landing and some of the more modern vehicles are specifically designed with modular armour that can be removed for air carriage. The German Puma, for example, was specifically designed with A400M carriage in mind having modular armour that was built around the weight limitations, five A400M’s were designed to air transport four Pumas with their modular armour in the final aircraft.

One of the key factors of the sales pitch for the A400M Atlas is that equipment, plant and vehicles are getting bigger and heavier whilst the C130J isn’t. Airbus also makes the point that the A400M can deliver everything the C130J can into exactly the same austere locations but also a subset of the C17’s payload into locations it cannot.

The traditional hub and spoke model will use aircraft like large civilian transporters or C17’s deliver equipment into a Main Operating Base with tactical aircraft like C130J’s being used to fly it forward into Forward Operating Bases. I know the C17 can be used in extremis to fly direct into an austere forward location but as noted, this would need significant surface improvement if it were more than a one off and expensive maintenance activity after. This is a superb capability to have, no doubt, but not one to be used regularly.

With the turnaround speed, austere location capability and intermediate weight and volume capabilities the argument for the A400M is that in some scenarios, this hub and spoke arrangement can be collapsed. It is not claimed that it can do this with main battle tank class equipment but armoured vehicles of around 30 tonnes and other equipment, plant and vehicles that exceeds the 2.74m height and 3.12m width of the C130J.

The equipment and more importantly, combinations of equipment, that falls into this category is where the interesting analysis lies.

Something that always amuses when reading about the A400M is the notion that Airbus woke up one morning and picked the specifications out of their collective arses. The cargo bay is 3.85m high because that is what the launch customers wanted, not 3.86 or 10.54 but 3.85. The same is true for all the other characteristics, driven from user requirements that would have been the result of detailed and exhaustive operational analysis.

Airbus A400M Atlas Airborne Cargo Bay Dimensions
Airbus A400M Atlas Airborne Cargo Bay Dimensions
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo Dimensions
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo Dimensions

Detractors of the A400M would do well to understand who it is they are aiming their criticism at!


When defining the payload characteristics of the A400M Atlas, Airbus Military and the launch customers looked at four sets of influencing factors;

The first is that equipment would grow in volume and weight beyond that of the C130 and thus decrease the proportion of inventory which could be airlifted into austere locations on a sustainable basis.

Second, users would want to realise the operational and economic benefit of collapsing the hub and spoke arrangement in some scenarios.

Third, the demand for delivering heavy and bulky equipment closer to the point of need would grow, especially for disaster response and humanitarian support, a key aspect of predicted future military operations.

Finally, carrying more for a given crew size within the constraints of the payload envelope would generate savings in people, the largest cost component.

Although Airbus Military and the launch customers could not have predicted the impact of the IED on vehicle design and the need to increase protection against a range of threats the A400M has benefited somewhat, call it hindsight or call it luck but their first influencing factor, this increase in size and weight, has been fully reflected by the reality of Afghanistan and Iraq. Additional bar armour adds weight and width/length whilst ECM and protected weapon stations, either manned or remote, adds height. For example, the BAE Haggluns BvS10 Viking is only 2.2m high in the fresh from the factory version but adding the Platt MR550 ring mount, air conditioning and ECM adds just under a metre in height, pushing it from C130 to A400M carriage.

I have started to create a database of all relevant UK military equipment with dimensions and weights etc. (using manufacturer data) just to illustrate how things have changed and will post this in the future but to illustrate the trend of increasing size and weight, a selected group is shown below.

Land Rover WMIK >> Jackal

The Land Rover WMIK or even cut down recce wagon has now been replaced by the Supacat Jackal. Accepting there are many variants of the WMIK the approximate dimensions are similar, comparing the two, the Jackal is between 15% and 25% larger and just under twice the kerb weight.

Land Rover WMIK
Land Rover WMIK
Jackal Armoured Vehicle
Jackal Armoured Vehicle

As it happens, they can both easily be carried by the C130J but even for a stripped down lightweight system like this, the size and weight growth is obvious.

Land Rover Snatch >> Foxhound LPPV

The same volume and weight increases can be seen in the evolution of the Foxhound which is approximately 15% large in all three axis and again, nearly twice the weight.

The Land Rover Snatch Vixen
The Land Rover Snatch Vixen
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) in Afghanistan
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) in Afghanistan

Bedford MJ /Leyland DAF >> MAN SP Cargo Vehicle Light

What about the workhouse of any Army, its basic green truck. The Leyland DAF was slightly larger than the venerable Bedford MJ but the jump between the DAF and the MAN SP Cargo Vehicle Light is approximately 15% larger and heavier.

DAF 4 Ton Truck
DAF 4 Ton Truck
MAN Support Vehicle
MAN Support Vehicle

Add in a protected cab, some bar armour and a weapon station and it is no longer capable of being carried by a C130J.

Combat Engineer Tractor (CET) >> Terrier

The Terrier Manoeuvre Support Vehicle is actually slightly more compact that the CET it is replacing and thus might be seen to buck the trend but it ioeen to buck the trend but it os over 30% he the impact of the IED on vehicle design e by C130J os over 30% heavier and the British versions of the A400M will have a cargo floor specifically strengthened to accommodate it.

Royal Engineers Combat Engineer Tractor (CET)
Royal Engineers Combat Engineer Tractor (CET)
A soldier uses a games consol style controller to control a Terrier armoured digger, which is controlled by remote control during an unveilling at the Defence Armoured Vehicle Centre, Bovington, Dorset.
A soldier uses a games consol style controller to control a Terrier armoured digger, which is controlled by remote control during an unveiling at the Defence Armoured Vehicle Centre, Bovington, Dorset.

Saxon AT105 >> Mastiff 3

Whether Mastiff remains in service after Afghanistan or not here is a clear evolution in the kind of protected mobility vehicle that can now be used. The IED has precipitated a volume and weight growth which is unlikely to be reversed.

Saxon Protected Vehicle
Saxon Protected Vehicle

Mastiff is between 19% and 35% larger than the Saxon and at least a third heavier, because of its size it is unable to be carried aboard a C130J but can be accommodated by the A400M.

Bv206 >> BvS10 >> Warthog

A small number of the original Bv206’s are still in service and they show exactly the size and weight inflation trend through to the theatre entry Warthog.

Hagglunds BV206 All Terrain Tracked Vehicles in Norway
Hagglunds BV206 All Terrain Tracked Vehicles in Norway
Viking vehicles operated by men of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) engage enemy positions after coming under fire from compounds surrounding Checkpoint Yellow 7 on the Shamalan Canal.
Viking vehicles operated by men of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) engage enemy positions after coming under fire from compounds surrounding Checkpoint Yellow 7 on the Shamalan Canal.
A 'Warthog' Fighting Vehicle is pictured on patrol in the Loy Mandah District of Afghanistan, during an operation to clear out an insurgent hotspot.
A ‘Warthog’ Fighting Vehicle is pictured on patrol in the Loy Mandah District of Afghanistan, during an operation to clear out an insurgent hotspot.

The size increase is between 20% and 30% but the weight increase is a whopping 75%

Carrying More

The second factor informing the design of the A400M was the desire to carry a greater percentage of the overall inventory, not items that had seen size and weight growth but that were beyond the capabilities of the C130 or C160 in the first place.

Looking at singleton carriage, the following equipment cannot be carried on the C130J but by virtue of greater payload and a bigger cargo bay can be accommodated by the A400M Atlas;

Armoured Combat and Protected Mobility Vehicles

Non TES variants of the Warrior, FRES Scout and variants (initial estimate based on kerb weight), BvS10 Viking (TES), Warthog (TES), Mastiff, Ridgeback and variants, Wolfhound, CVR(T) Scimitar Mk2, Husky (TES)

Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo - Warrior
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo – Warrior


Royal Artillery Arthur locating radar, GMLRS including payload, GMLRS Recovery

Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo - GMLRS
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo – GMLRS
Airbus A400M Cargo Bay (09)
Airbus A400M Cargo Bay – Trucks and Light Guns

Engineering and Logistics

4 Wheels: DAF 4 Tonne T45 Dropside, MAN SV Cargo Light (Medium Mobility HX60)

6 Wheels: MAN SV Cargo Medium (Medium Mobility HX58), MAN SV Unit Support Tanker (Improved Medium Mobility SX44), MAN SV Unit Support Tanker (Medium Mobility HX58), Bedford TM 6×6 14 Tonne cargo (legacy fleet), Volvo FL12 Cargo truck with Jib (legacy fleet), Foden Recovery Vehicle

8 Wheels: Alvis Unipower BR90 Bridging Vehicle, Alvis Unipower BR90 Automated Bridge Laying Equipment vehicle, Alvis Unipower Tank Bridge Transporter (without bridge set), MGB Pallet Set on FODEN DROPS, Foden DROPS Improved Medium Mobility, Leyland DROPS Medium Mobility, MAN SV Cargo Heavy Medium Mobility HX77 8×8, MAN SV Cargo Heavy Medium Mobility HX77 8×8 EPLS

Airbus A400M Atlas - Truck Loading Tests
Airbus A400M Atlas – Truck Loading Tests

Tractor and Trailer: Seddon Atkinson 24.38 6×4 Tractor Unit Light Equipment Tractor, Foden 4380 MWAD 8×6 articulated 20,000L water tanker (Legacy fleet), Heavy Equipment Tractor 1070F (Oshkosh), Broshuis and King heavy trailers, 40 foot ISO container

Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo - ISO Container
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo – ISO Container
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload - Semi Trailer and Tractor
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload – Semi Trailer and Tractor

Engineering Plant: Dump Truck Med 6×6 A3-6RA – Foden (legacy fleet), Case 721 BXT Rough Terrain Forklift (legacy), Case 721 CXT Armoured Loader Wheeled (legacy), Caterpillar 972G Loader (Armoured), Ingersol Trailer Mounted Compressor, Iveco tracker 6×6 Volumetric Mixer Volumetric Mixer, Medium Crawler Tractor (MCT) Caterpillar D5N DZ10 Tracked DZ11, Drilling Machine Rotary Truck Mounted Well Drill, Comacchio MC 450 – Drill Rotary EOD, Terex AC35 – Medium Crane Truck MTD 20-30 Tonne, Iveco tracker 6×6 Truck Mounted Loader (TML), Iveco Tracker 6×6 Dump Truck Self Loading, Tractor Wheeled Medium and Rough Terrain Fork Lift, Bomag BW 177 DH-4 (Roller Motorised Smooth Drum), Excavator Crawler Mounted Medium (Volvo EC210), Excavator Wheeled Medium (Volvo EW180C)

Airbus A400M Atlas Payload - Mobile Crane
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload – Mobile Crane
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload - Excavator and Dump Truck
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload – Excavator and Dump Truck

Surveillance and Communication

Falcon when mounted on MAN Support Vehicle

Aircraft and Aviation Support

Chinook (rear rotor disassembled), Apache Attack Helicopter (with stub wings and rotor head removed), Wildcat with only main rotor blades removed,

Airbus A400M Cargo Bay - Apache Attack Helicopters
Airbus A400M Cargo Bay – Apache Attack Helicopters
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo - Agusta A109
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo – Agusta A109
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo - Puma
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo – Puma

This is not and exhaustive list but it should provide some insight into the potential transformative effects delivered by the A400M.

The core role of tactical air transport is to deliver and sustain land forces, if by concentrating our resources on legacy aircraft like the C130 we deny ourselves the ability to discharge that fundamental role fully.

The fundamental truth is this, plant and vehicles are getter bigger and the C130 cargo box isn’t

Although it is easy to concentrate on these singular large payloads, it is combination loads of vehicles, plant, pallets and people enabled by the 4m by 3.85m by 17m cargo box of the A400M that are interesting.

A great deal of military equipment is designed with the C17 cargo box dimensions in mind, especially its height under the wing of 3.76m. The A400M Atlas has a minimum height of 3.85m compared with 2.74m for the C130J. Height is often the critical limiting factor for air carriage and in the kit lists above it is height more often that rules out C130 carriage.

Width is 4m compared with 5.5m for the C17 and 3.12m for the C130J but width is less of an issue for vehicles and equipment. Only really large loads like helicopters or main battle tanks and their derivatives need this width although double row pallet carriage is supported by the C17’s width.

Even if you look at shifting some Land Rovers, a single A400 can move 6 plus trailers, 3 times a C130J.

Airbus A400M Atlas Payload - Land Rover and Trailer
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload – Land Rover and Trailer

The C17 though can carry a whopping 18 463L pallets but this is reduced to 9 if one wants the seats folded down, which is exactly the same as the A400.

The C130J can carry six 463L military pallets but there are restrictions on dimensions and direction in order to maintain a safe exit path. The C130J-30 only carries one less pallet than the A400M but in order to do so, the seats have to be folded up and therefore, it is unable to carry personnel. The A400M on the other hand can carry the A400 can carry nine 463L pallets and 54 personnel at the same time

Airbus A400M Atlas Payload - Pallets and Personnel
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload – Pallets and Personnel

Different aircraft have different ramp loading weights; the A400M for example can carry a 6 tonne bundle on the ramp, the C130J much less than this. This also impacts on the maximum weight that can be air dropped. Floor loading factors limit weight distribution and the overhang or ramp area can be used for outsize cargos like gun barrels on vehicles or crane jibs on construction plant, if the floor length would indicate a piece of equipment could not be carried it might still be possible by using the ramp void.

A 2010 trial included a Ridgeback and Panther and the report in Flight International made the point that the A400M could not only accommodate the TES versions of these two vehicles but also a couple of pallets on the ramp and 50 odd personnel seated.

Airbus A400M Cargo Bay - Mastiff testing
Airbus A400M Cargo Bay – Mastiff testing
Airbus A400M Cargo Bay - Panther testing
Airbus A400M Cargo Bay – Panther testing

Some of the datasheet figures stand out, the C17 is stated as having a seating capacity of 102 against 128 for the C130J-30 or 116 for the A400M and yet the floor lengths are similar. The c130J-30 stretched variant has a longer fuselage and the same engines as the normal version but can carry 900kg greater payload.

The maximum payload figures might look impressive on one aircraft or the other but what does that do to the range?

Cargo hold heights are not uniform, the lowest point is usually under the wing area, whilst this will limit loads of a continuous height, some equipment might be shorter at one end that the other and so whilst the cargo hold dimension limit might preclude it, the actual situation might be different. The aircraft under consideration here are not uniform in width, the cargo bed will be narrower than the widest point so for vehicles and equipment that overhang above their wheelbase this might again change the carriage capability. Bar or slat armour will increase the width of a vehicle but not right down to the surface of the aircraft load bed and so this might be accommodated by the natural shape of the aircraft.

A larger height could allow loads to be carried on trailers or vehicles ready for drive away or simply to maximise volume. A good example is the Iveco Tracker 6×6 truck and JCB Telehandlers; these two generally go together with the telehandler being carried to site on the back of the Tracker. They are both individually transportable by C130J but not when the telehandler is secured onto the cargo load bed of the truck. In the A400 on the other hand, both can be carried together, thus minimising floor space used and maximising the volume of the aircraft whilst reducing handling at the destination.

Many modern vehicles in their Theatre Entry Specification (TES) have additional fittings such as remote weapon stations or ECM and communication ‘roof racks’ so the extra height would not normally find itself into the vehicle specification sheets. This extra height might tip it over from one aircraft to the next, the Panther being a good example. In the much rarer scenarios of vehicles needing to be ready (almost) to fight the moment they roll off the ramp this might be important but in other less dramatic scenarios it might simply reduce the overhead in putting the vehicles back together again after they have been broken down ready for transport. This might seem like a trivial saving in time but a) it is not and b) every person counts on operations as they have to be fed, protected and otherwise sustained at great cost.

What I am trying to get at here is that just looking at maximum payload, cargo bed width or numbers of pallets only gets you so far, these are important but have to be balanced against potential restrictions, range implications and how loads are mixed. The ability of aircraft A to carry equipment B is also not as simple as it may look because of non-uniform dimensions of both aircraft and equipment, variation in floor loading and other factors.

The loads and volumes would also then be used to establish likely scenarios and resultant plans, phasing equipment, vehicles, stores and personnel to a predetermined logistic plan for operation of one type or another, working out sustainment mission load patterns, where these loads would need to be delivered and how that would dictate plans.

It is very complex so comparing aircraft by cost per tonne or cost per meter cubed might be an interesting exercise, as is looking at equipment dimensions and seeing if they fit but there is more to it than that.

The RAF’s C130J’s use the Dash 4a Cargo Handling System from AAR Corp that is not the same as that on the older C130K’s that use the old Skydel system or the newer Enhanced Cargo Handling System (ECHS) fitted to most C130J’s. I read that the RAF C130’s were delivered without a cargo handling system and old ones fitted at Marshalls because LM would not sign off on the Skydel, ECHS was too expensive and Lockheed Martin’s construction quality was compromised by old jigs that meant the floor beams did not fit. Either way, we seem to have ended up with a mish-mash of  systems that are ill suited to modern operations.

The UK versions of the A400M will be delivered without a roller/restraint system that would allow carriage of civilian 125 inch wide Unit Load Device pallets and underfloor winch to save money but will instead be strengthened to allow the Terrier armoured engineer vehicle to be carried. If one reads the NAO report the civilian pallet system was deleted to save a few million pounds and I hope that yet again, the cargo handling system on a new aircraft is not being de-specified in order to save tiny sums of money.

Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo Floor
Airbus A400M Atlas Cargo Floor
Airbus A400M Atlas Crane System
Airbus A400M Atlas Crane System

I am already getting that sinking feeling despite the A400M’s AAR provided and PFM designed standard cargo handling system supposedly being very impressive.

The large wheel wells provide aerodynamic improvements that allow simultaneous paratroop and cargo despatch and create space inside which is used for equipment that might otherwise impinge on the cargo bay.

Air dropping of equipment and supplies is an interesting concept and one that has seen a resurgence in the last decade or so, especially for air despatch of supplies as opposed to personnel and vehicles.

I covered the subject in some detail a couple of years ago, click here, looking at that article it is probably due a refresh.

The A400M will be able to air drop single loads up to 16 tonnes and with the higher ramp loading limits and very carefully designed aerodynamics air despatch and dropping paratroopers should be a very strong point for the A400M. The challenge will be to manage trials, certification and getting around to actually replacing some of the ancient platforms and associated equipment still in service.

We should most definitely not concentrate solely on outsize loads because it is unlikely that the RAF will be flying Mastiffs into a rough field, but the plant and vehicle changes are real and cannot be simply dismissed by saying, well, we don’t do it that much anyway or they can just drive in from a C17 concrete runway.

By keeping the C130 and not moving on, we are tacitly accepting that more and more of the types of equipment that used to go in the back of a Hercules now need to go via C17. This would be fair enough if we had loads of C17’s which were cheap to operate, low maintenance and able to repeatedly operate from austere locations, but it does not and cannot.

What is the point of a tactical airlifter that cannot airlift an increasing number of items in the inventory?


With a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet and cruise speed up to Mach 0.72 the A400M Atlas can fly in regular civilian airspace.

Airbus A400M Atlas Altitude and Speed Comparison
Airbus A400M Atlas Altitude and Speed Comparison

Testing is confirming that the aircraft has excellent aerodynamic performance and very stable in normal flight but extremely agile for such a large aircraft. It has been noted that this aerodynamic stability and clean air flow over the rear of the aircraft will allow some interesting thoughts on payload delivery to develop, launching UAV’s and cruise missiles looks less like a load of nonsense now!

In addition to the excellent handling characteristics and speed it is range that the A400M Atlas is quite impressive.

Airbus A400M Atlas Payload Range Graph
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload Range Graph

The map below shows the range of the A400M from Brize Norton; 3,300km at 37 tonnes, 4,500km at 30 tonnes, 6,400 at 20 tonnes and 8,700km ferry range.

Airbus A400M Atlas - Range Map from Brize Norton
Airbus A400M Atlas – Range Map from Brize Norton

And again from RAF Mount Pleasant, Al Udeid in Qatar, Wideawake at Ascension and RAF Akrotiri

Airbus A400M Atlas - Range Map from RAF Cyprus
Airbus A400M Atlas – Range Map from RAF Cyprus
Airbus A400M Atlas - Range Map from Mount Pleasant
Airbus A400M Atlas – Range Map from Mount Pleasant
Airbus A400M Atlas - Range Map from Ascension
Airbus A400M Atlas – Range Map from Ascension
Airbus A400M Atlas - Range Map from Al Udeid
Airbus A400M Atlas – Range Map from Al Udeid

A comparison with the C130J is also shown below, the two circles represent the C130J and A400M at 20 tonnes payload, 1,852km km and 6,400km respectively. The C130J range at this payload has been derived from the graph on page 29 of the C130J datasheet, click here to view.

Airbus A400M Atlas - Range Map comparison with C130J at 20 tonnes
Airbus A400M Atlas – Range Map comparison with C130J and A400M at 20 tonnes

These range maps are imperfect; they assume straight lines and uniform flight profiles for example and the different fuel configurations with regards to reserves etc are not known. They provide a good indicator though.

The UK is planned to be largely out of Afghanistan well before the A400M comes into service but we are currently flying a hub and spoke from the UK to the Middle East and then into Afghanistan, trooping flights using C17’s are very wasteful of precious and expensive aircraft hours but the A400M in this situation could fly direct to Bastion from Brize Norton with a mixed load of pallets and personnel up to 20 tonnes at a significantly lower cost than the hub and spoke currently being used.

It will be able to lift 20 tonnes from Ascension to Mount Pleasant. Cyprus is well placed for operations into North Africa and the Middle East and Qatar, Oman or Bahrain puts large areas in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East within reach without resorting to stop overs or airborne refuelling.

All this at relatively high cruising speeds and altitudes as well and the similarity to the UK’s C17 fleet means that the complex task of ‘flow management’ will be made easier. Speed also reduces duty cycles for crew which will result in cost savings as less crew will be needed for a given task in comparison to the C130J.

For air dropping these circles will obviously reduce unless airborne refuelling is used but because the A400M can be used in the AAR role it could be used to self-deploy multiples and the return leg.

Austere Operations

The specification of the A400M Atlas requires it to match or improve upon the short field performance of the equipment it is replacing, namely the C160 Transal and C130 Hercules. If it does not do this it will have failed against one of the key design metrics so Airbus have aimed for a significant improvement.

If one looks at the undercarriage arrangement, the nose wheel and main wheels it is obvious that they are big, have a large footprint and designed to spread the load out across a larger area, thus reducing ground pressure.

Airbus A400M Atlas - Wheels
Airbus A400M Atlas – Wheels

The A400M has been designed not just to land and take off from rough and soft surfaces but to do so repeatedly. On a CBR 6 surface it can land, unload and take off 40 times before the runway is unusable without improvement with a mixed fuel/payload load of 30 tonnes. On a CBR 8 surface this raises to 225 missions.

It can land 27 tonnes onto an 830m soft strip

Airbus A400M Atlas Take Off Distance
Airbus A400M Atlas Take Off Distance
Airbus A400M Atlas Landing Distance
Airbus A400M Atlas Landing Distance

To enable operations at austere locations the A400M Atlas can kneel and roll so that equipment can be loaded on uneven ground and it can reverse up a 2 degree slope or 1 degree when fully loaded without a ground tug.

Messier Bugatti have designed the Steering/Landing/Kneeling system to allow, for example, a wheel to be changed by raising the aircraft. There are three positions


The Thales Top Owl helmet mounted sight has been selected for A400M Atlas flight tests and this will probably flow through to production aircraft. Thales has also been selected to provide the flight simulators for the RAF, Rockwell Collins for the HF-9500 radio system and Rode and Schwarzfor the VHF/UHF radios..

There is a full fly by wire flight envelope system that has been derived from the A380 and uses the very latest full duplex dual speed network called Avionics Full Duplex Switched Ethernet or ADFX. The benefits of this, as opposed to the traditional means of connectivity is it provides quality of service, can hugely improve resilience and lowers the amount of cabling used, with obvious weight benefits. This is linked to the Integrated Modular Avionics system using a range of interactive LCD displays and computing modules, this modular approach is predicted to decrease maintenance, support and upgrade costs significantly. If one looks at the cutthroat world of commercial aviation where through life costs are under constant downward pressure, the A400M Atlas is benefiting from technology proven elsewhere.

The Europrop International (EPI) TP400D-6’s are worth mentioning because they are the most powerful turboprops fitted to any Western aircraft, at a power rating of 11,000 SHP.

Airbus A400M Engine TPD600
Airbus A400M Engine TPD600

The defensive aids will be equally impressive, the Thales Multi-colour Infrared Alerting Sensors (MIRAS) system and Indra ALR-400 provides advanced detection with a range of chaff/flare launchers from MBDAand towed radar decoys providing protection. A Directed Infra-Red Countermeasure (DIRCM) system may also be fitted but the final configuration and fit for the RAF may not be decided until closer to in service. Defensive systems, fuel tank inerting and other protection systems may have been subject to budget based reduction in the past but with the A400M Atlas they have been a very high priority and it is an area that European industry excels at. The National Audit Office major projects reports do indicate that not all aircraft will be initially fitted with the full compliment but I find it hard to believe that when in service the aircraft fleet will not be fully configured, you never know though.

Germany has decided to forego their original automatic terrain masking low level flight system but the standard system is still impressive and will continuously compare the aircrafts position by GPS and INS with a database of elevation and obstructions with the resultant information being passed back to the flight control system.


Airbus have many years of driving down support costs but a military aircraft self-evidently is subject to a different set of stresses to their civilian models, that said, many of the concepts of integrated logistics support are still applicable.

The maintenance downtime is designed to be only 84 days with three levels of checks; Line (A Check) every 150 days, Base (B Check) every 24 months and Depot (C Check) every 72 months. One of the key selling points of the A400M is its low operating costs.

There is a maintenance free operating period of 15 days during which only minimal serving is needed which can be carried out by the aircrew and with supplies carried on board. A Ground Kit and Long Deployment Kit are also available which contains a range of tools and spares and extended this maintenance free autonomous period to 150 days or 500 flight hours.

These remain to be proven of course.


Despite all its trials and tribulations the A400M Atlas is approaching the end of the initial development programme, users will be able to start exploring just what it can do, pushing the performance envelope and realising the considerable investment made.

In Part 1 I looked at the background and industrial issues but in this part I have tried to explain how the A400M is worth the wait and money.

If we look back at bit of equipment that were hard to replace, the Bedford 4 tonner being a good example, there was an enormous resistance to venturing into new areas but the MAN Support Vehicle which is a big step forward has been a real success. Change is always difficult but sometimes a revolution is better than an evolution so whilst the C130J is no doubt a big act to follow I think the A400M represents that break with the past that is long overdue.

The next part will look at the potential of the A400M in missions other than transport.


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September 9, 2012 7:17 pm


That would be C-17/C-130.

“Airbus A400M Atlas – Wheels”

Reminds me of the Ar 232:

It was perfect for resupply/WIA evacuation for pockets or for armoured spearheads, but it required two engines of the same kind as the Fw 190A/F/G fighter(-bomber) as well as upgraded bomber models and it was an all-metal aircraft with lots of aluminium at a time when the aluminium supply wasn’t a solved problem yet.

September 9, 2012 7:23 pm

@ TD – you’ve answered my last comment from part one, namely what will the A400M be doing, quite nicely, at least from the purely transport angle.

“One of the key factors of the sales pitch for the A400M Atlas is that equipment, plant and vehicles are getting bigger and heavier whilst the C130J isn’t. Airbus also makes the point that the A400M can deliver everything the C130J can into exactly the same austere locations but also a subset of the C17’s payload into locations it cannot” – this is surely the key point; I see A400 basically as a straight replacement for C130, but also a cheaper alternative to C17 on occasion.

September 9, 2012 7:24 pm

My favourite Arado is the Ar 234. That is Ar 234 without a dash. :)

September 9, 2012 7:38 pm

The Ar 234 was a freaking flying fuel barrel.

“It can land 27 tonnes onto an 830m soft strip”
“31.5 tonnes, 43 tonnes maximum weight with add-on armor”

The KMW folks I spoke with were royally pissed off by A400M moving goalposts (already in 2008) and pessimistic about actual production A400M being of any use for medium AFV air lift (including GTK).

September 9, 2012 9:04 pm

in the first few paragraphs you made the statement that the airplane shouldn’t be compared to the C-130 and then spent the rest of the article doing just that!

but even ignoring that minor tidbit, we still have to get to the real soup and crackers of this issue. you have an airplane that is better than the C-130 (but can’t get into as many places tactically just because of the weight issue) but not as good as the C-17, yet costs almost as much!

that’s the real issue. why would i want to spend almost as much money but get less capability from an airplane if one is in production that can deliver more at slightly more costs and probably equal costs if i push the US government hard enough.

great idea but too late and in the wrong budgetary environment to be a big success.

September 9, 2012 9:11 pm

Terrific read. Do you know during loading tests in France they loaded a super puma in 6 mins.

A400m will operate into or out off anywhere a c130j can go.

September 9, 2012 9:16 pm

and if it does it’ll run into the same issues that the C-17 will. remember when first offered the C-17 was suppose to break the supply hub too. soft ground is no one’s friend.

September 9, 2012 9:25 pm

It won’t the Germans made sure of that with some pretty challenging cbr requirements.

September 9, 2012 9:31 pm

so you’re telling me that an airplane that costs almost as much as a C-17 but can’t carry as much is a better deal for an airforce than a couple of C-130’s…or Kawasaki C-1’s or Embraer KC-390’s or a C-17?

like i said. a good idea but poorly implemented and late to the market. dreams of selling a few to the USAF was a Bill Sweetman fantasy. ideas of selling this plane outside of the EU is also fantasy.

what you have here is a modern day Transall…and i would bet that numbers bought by the EU will be limited so the price will soon equal or exceed that of the C-17.

September 9, 2012 9:50 pm

i was too late to mod my statement but that’s the real issue too. for one A400 you can buy two C-130’s.

is one A400 worth two C-130’s? i would bet that the RAF would say no.

Brian Black
Brian Black
September 9, 2012 10:13 pm

solomon, “why would i want to spend almost as much money but get less capability”

But that is a one dimensional viewpoint. You get the increased access of a smaller tactical aircraft, which is itself an additional capability; and you get that additional capability without sacrificing too great a proportion of load capacity.
Also, at the RAF scale, it’s important at get an aircraft that can tie in long-range high-speed performance with tactical utility and access. Otherwise, we would surely need greater overall numbers of Cdash17 and Cdash130 which would cost the MoD more money.

September 9, 2012 10:17 pm

@ solomon

Purchase price that maybe, but what about operating costs?

@ TD

Nice article, I’ll admit I was a bit sceptical of the A400M, less so know. I do always wonder, without being on the project, how much of it is manufacturers waffle? A large cost being manpower and spares it’s interesting to read the support section.

One quick question on that section, ‘A Ground Kit and Long Deployment Kit are also available which contains a range of tools and spares and extended this maintenance free autonomous period to 150 days or 500 flight hours.’
How can it be maintaince free if it needs tools and spares?

September 9, 2012 10:24 pm

Forgive me if I take the role of Devil’s Advocate for a moment:
Is a second C130 worth the additional flight and ground crews?
Is a second C130 worth the brigade-level operations required to bring over-sized equipment into the area of operations?
Do we have the tanker support to run two C130s out to the area of operations?

The C-17, built in large numbers and sold across the world, is still more costly that the programme cost of the A400M, if I read the articles correctly.

Lastly, please re-read the section headed “Austere Operations”

Brian Black
Brian Black
September 9, 2012 10:31 pm

“for one A400 you can buy two C-130’s … is one A400 worth two C-130’s?”

But even if the purchase cost was two for one, with more smaller aircraft you would still need more air-crew, more ground-crew, more maintainers, more logisticians… it would not follow that the all-inclusive costs would be equal on a two for one basis.
And if you did buy two C-130 instead of the larger A400, if a particular vehicle didn’t fit in one C-130 it would not fit in the other C-130 either.

September 9, 2012 10:32 pm

SO said “was a freaking flying fuel barrel”

So was Saturn 5…..

@ Sol

The thing is the US is in a different league to us. You do need theatre wide transport. For you even oddities like JHSV work. The UK will only ever go somewhere once you have kicked the door down and made it safe. Our SF may be the busiest part of armed forces and they need 20t lifter. But I am beginning to question the need for 20 or so even bigger planes that are new and not flown by our main ally.

C130 answers the same question that DC3 did. The CH47 lifts more than DC3. It may not be as fast. And the range of the two are completely different. But most re-supplies are with in the range of the helicopter. But CH47 can land anywhere that even the redoubtable DC3 can’t. WW2 commanders would have loved to have a CH47.

Of course it is heresy to question the need for an RAF capability, especially one with fixed wings. Has a transport person been head of the RAF?

September 9, 2012 10:36 pm

no need to re-read austere operations. the ground side (Army and Marines) have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to tactical airlifters actually being tactical.

truth be told it will always be helicopters that carry the load to the little bases and FOBs.

but back to the issue at hand. quite honestly the RAF (speaking only of that air arm and not looking at the rest of the EU) would be better served (if we’re talking about a mix of cost and utility) by buying a mix of A330’s, C-17s and C-130’s…the A400 is the real outlier in the lift equation, not the C-130.

to be honest this is more about the european aerospace industry than it is about military equipment. but i’m good with that. WE (and that includes the US) need strong aircraft design in Western Europe. if this is the price of keeping that effort alive then so be it, but lets not glorify a middling airplane with delusions of it being tactically superior to what is already being produced.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 9, 2012 11:00 pm

It is interesting that the UK will be the only operator using the A400M that will operate it alongside a larger strategic aircraft. I think the capability it brings is very good.
It brings proper tactical austere access with strategic range speed and payload. It can land in places the C17 cant whilst carrying vehicles and loads the C130 cannot.
The real question is can we afford enough of them to carry out the mundane tasks. Will we have A400m flying a couple of pallets around as we have nothing else to use.
Could we extend a few C130 for lighter loads or well outside the box would be a purchase of CN 295 or CJ 27 for light transport roles and able to take a palletised mission suite to give a basic MPA or even gun ship capability.

September 9, 2012 11:15 pm

@ apats i would extend the 146 uor. Add them into 32 sqn and operate them out of brize.

September 10, 2012 1:35 am

Serious question, after looking again at all those images of drawn trucks up there:

You guys are aware that the fixation on vehicle-carrying capacity of military transport aircraft largely goes back to the post-’99 craze of the U.S.Army about its “relevance” after it hadn’t proved useful in the Kosovo conflict, right?
The U.S.Army got all crazy then (Shinseki et al) and developed the stupid Stryker Brigade(s) with the stated intent to be able to deploy one by air lift within four days’ notice

They didn’t ask the U.S.A.F. first, which clearly would have had own priorities concerning what to deploy first (F-22, Patriot PAC-3 anyone?).

Strategic or whatever airlift is close to irrelevance for AFVs (save for BMDs). What little airlift is being done (mostly concerning Afghanistan) was possible and was in great part done using civilian air freighter capacities.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 1:50 am

You may have noticed that recently we have far more use for light vehicles than F22 or Patriot Pac 3 as recent conflicts have not seen the enemy have much of an Air Force.

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2012 1:55 am

A very through article but I still think it fails to get to the heart of the issue that others are hitting at a bit. There are certainly things it can do a C-130 can, as everyone has admitted. But we still have not really stated a realistic scenario that lays out exactly what great things all this additional expense enables us to do.

Is there an important scenario someone can come up with where having A400M’s instead of C-130’s really makes a difference in something important?

It seems to be commonly accepted that the C-130’s have been worked hard moving around general cargo. Much of what the A400M will do is much more boring than moving around the handful of things it can carry and the C-130 can’t. I just struggle to put a critical reason to exist behind the A400M for the UK.

I look at the Type 45 and I say that enables the RN to fight in a high air threat environment.

I look at the Eurofighter/Meteor combination and I know it is there to provide a robust anti-air capability.

I look at CVF and I know what capability it is supposed to provide and why it cost so much.

I don’t have that same sense of clarity with the A400M and it is not because I don’t understand the mission or the advantages it has over the C-130. It is just that I have a hard time finding them compelling given the cost of the platform. I think that is the reason that everyone operating heavy lift aircraft is basically passing on the A400M except the UK.

September 10, 2012 2:12 am

>Detractors of the A400M would do well to understand who it is they are aiming their criticism at!

You say this, but immediately before you already gave us at least two criticisms to grab:

>The German Puma, for example, was specifically designed with A400M carriage in mind having modular armour that was built around the weight limitations, five A400M’s were designed to air transport four Pumas with their modular armour in the final aircraft.

Here’s one example of questionable requirement setting. They’ll never get Western tanks into the plane, but for 6 more lousy tons, Germany won’t have to resort to this half measure. I can’t believe Germany didn’t at least fight for this…

>The cargo bay is 3.85m high because that is what the launch customers wanted, not 3.86 or 10.54 but 3.85.

Do you mean to tell me all the launch customers were totally against the concept of it being say 4.1m tall, which will allow the cargo bay to be temporarily split into 2 decks and double the passenger capacity, or to allow the lower deck to be used for small cargo? That ought to be worth SOMETHING… maybe politically they can’t buy or co-build An-70 but at least they could steal that idea (when they rejected East-West cooperation, the A400 was still a Powerpoint slide) … which part of the operational analysis crushed this one, now it carries a similar number to the C-130J-30 as you mention.

>With a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet and cruise speed up to Mach 0.72 the A400M Atlas can fly in regular civilian airspace.

Now, here I think Tupolev and Kawasaki will disagree with you. Their argument is that their turbofan propelled planes are better because they are ~50KTS faster and thus integrates better into the airliner traffic.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 2:53 am


On size and weight issues. I guess you could keep arguing for extra size and tonnage but at what stage do you simply make the aircraft a C17 clone.

Interfacing with civilian air traffic is about reaching a minimum speed to be allowed to use them. At 485 MPH it is comfortably within this zone.

What military transports do Tupolev make? Did the Tu 330 ever enter service?
The Kawasaki C2 is indeed 50 kts faster than an A400m and for those 50kts it can only carry 12 tonnes as far as an A400M can carry 20 and Jets and rough field landings are a marriage to make any maintainer shudder.
I am not convinced that we need an A400 but I can appreciate its capabilities.

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2012 3:14 am


“I am not convinced that we need an A400 but I can appreciate its capabilities.”

That sums up my feelings pretty well. As a US taxpayer I certainly would not want to pay to create the thing. Now if the USAF were looking for another 150 C-130’s and they got offered the A400M for say 10-20% more than a C-130 I would jump all over it. But make the price difference a lot more than that and I think I can find other more useful things to spend my cash on.

September 10, 2012 4:30 am

I have no intention on making a C-17 clone. However, since Western Europe was arrogant enough to kick aside the assistance of a veteran and try to build a medium transport by itself, it is inevitable that I will evaluate its product against the product it tried to crush especially since it is MUCH more expensive.

As for the 485MPH bit, as I understand it 780km/h is the A400M’s maximum speed. AF Technology actually quotes a “normal operating speed” as low as 555km/h, Antonov estimates the cruise at 720 (that’s the value that stuck in my mind) and Airbus’ own page waffles in the language with “up to” and “high speed” cruise enough to allow for either interpretation. All this suggests to me that it won’t really be going at 780 most of the time and if it did, it won’t meet the full range spec at the same time. Would it still be above the minimum speed at 720km/h?

I hadn’t even heard about the Tu-330 for some time. Though my feelings for the An-70 are already irrevocably published, I have no intention of claiming Tu-330 or C-2 are better than the A400M. In fact, to be blunt I consider Tu-330 a crummy strawman project by Tupolev that helped to delay the An-70’s development (along w/ causing more un-necessary bad blood) and the emphasis on speed over payload in the C-2 another big mistake – I mean, they were building a Type 10 medium tank parallel to the C-2’s development, and by stretching the requirement to 44 tons, they could have airlifted it which would have given a bit of reality to the new “Dynamic Defense Concept”. But no, instead the max payload was 30 tons, and they now have to make some kind of 26-ton (thus airliftable) wheeled “Maneuver Combat Vehicle” that (given history) won’t work out to be much cheaper than the Type 10, will eat into the already sorely limited tank count, and will be inferior in firepower and protection. Ugh.

I just put them up to suggest that other people may have different opinions about that very specific point of its suitability for the airways.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 4:58 am


ref the speed issue, the only site I can see that talks about 555km/h is that one site. i suspect what they are actually talking about is the normal operational profile which may not involve high altitude high speed long distance trips as it is also a “tactical” aircraft.

Whilst attempting to find some references about speed I stumbled across this site. Worth a browse.

September 10, 2012 5:42 am

Will take a look at it, thanks.


The idea of specifying how much cheaper the A400M must get to be a “good idea” is great for ensuring one’s thoughts remain rational, but 10-20% over the -130 seems a bit ungenerous. Given that the A400M carries at least 80% more by weight, over 100% more volume, which in practical terms translates to somewhere between 1.5 times and 3 times more items, plus carries equal weights to longer distances and carries various items the -130 can’t carry, period, given a choice between the two my generosity will stretch to at least twice the cost, but thrice-plus (42m v 141m) is a bit … much IMHO.

The bigger problem IMO is -400 v -17 because the -400 is expensive enough they won’t like settling into into rough strips too much more than the -17, which deletes one of its bigger rationales.

Anyone else on either side of the debate want to try (for the pro-A400Mers, how much more the thing’s relative cost can inflate before you join the “It’s not worth it” crowd)?

Oh, and looking forward to your Part 3!

September 10, 2012 6:24 am

@ arkhangsk

‘because the -400 is expensive enough they won’t like settling into into rough strips too much more than the -17, which deletes one of its bigger rationales.’

On this point apparantly not, Mark one of the contributers on here, I believe help design the undercarriage. It’s rough field capability is supposed to avoid the problems that the C17 had when first brought into service.

Brian Black
Brian Black
September 10, 2012 6:25 am

Isn’t it the C17 that we could more easily do without? The rare occasions that we need the out-size dimensions of the C17 don’t actually justify operating our own fleet; that’s where we should be buying in flying hours, as and when needed.
If British C17 are being used more often than not to shift passengers and other loads which are easily within the capacity of the A330, then we probably need more A330 to operate alongside the A400; a two type aircraft fleet rather than three.

September 10, 2012 7:08 am

@Brian Black: lets face it, we leased the 4 C17 because we were endlessly borrowing C5 and C17 from the US. I don’t think we need question the need for an outsize capability, it’s just what size of said capability we need to worry about.

A more pertinent point is probably that since we really cannot aspire to transport more than CVR(T) / Bronco vehicles over long distances, what aircraft can do so most economically given that A400 is probably too large for light intra-theatre shuttling? Let’s face it, that says C17 to me

September 10, 2012 7:15 am


Was the wing and a portion of the aft fuse I was involved with not the under carriage but did get some briefings on the undercarriage performance which were pretty satisfactory to the user requirements. Rough field testing has only really started.

The ila airshow this week should perhaps provide an update and baring any last minute issues the a400m will perform a flying routine.

Brian you mean the French model.

September 10, 2012 7:25 am

At the time the lease was initiated (as opposed to after Afghanistan), Britain seemed to be kind of in an uncomfortable borderline status when it comes to heavy-transport usage. The estimate is for under 1,000 C-17 hours a year, or over 100 flights a year, which is too much (politically) to just keep asking for favors from USAF or to just keep chartering An-124 but not really enough to justify an independent full-time fleet either.

Sharing and buying flying hours would seem to be a compromise.

September 10, 2012 8:37 am

“It will be able to lift 20 tonnes from Ascension to Mount Pleasant.”

And pretty much 20t back to the UK from Ascension.

Bloody god-send that island!

Great series Admin.

Fluffy Thoughts
Fluffy Thoughts
September 10, 2012 9:04 am

Euro-Turkey: Why we should not buy A400M.

HMAF are moving to a more expeditionary role. This cannot be accomodated by an aircraft that can transport a single 37-tonne vehicle (non-TES) from Brize to Turkey*! Even the FI’s require a stop-off at Ascencion empty by the over-weight transport.

With C-17 and C-130J we can move light forces – our only immediate intervention resources – into foreign, non-litoral fields as a containment operation. Where the litoral exists we have Albions, Bays and Points to off-load fully-kitted medium-to-heavy armour, all ready for action.

The problem with Euro-Turkey is it leaves another requirement – often met by proposed C27J/C295 mini-transports – theatre transportation unfulfilled. This requirement is/can be met by C130J at a lower cost.

I’m with Solomon on this: The Euro-Turkey is an EU-folly. [Truism?] A few extra C-17s, more C-130Js and a new batch of Bays/Points would enable the UK to move it’s heavy equipment to zones as-and-when-required. We do not intend to kick-in-doors for the foreseeable and, as such, the benefits of the A400M are an expense too far…!

* Fourteen relay movements, then off to maintenance. Pfft!

September 10, 2012 9:11 am

Quick qustion, How many British FOB’s in Afghanistan have airstrips, and receive regular supply deliverys by C130?

September 10, 2012 9:32 am

I don’t understand why everybody is so excited about moving one or two vehicles at 500kts. If all 20 A400m were available at once (which they won’t be) it still wouldn’t add up to a battalion (light on stores anyway). Before somebody risked £2billion of aircraft into theatre the strip is going have to be secure (probably by US Rangers or USMC.) Numbers count as Afghanistan has shown or does make a difference because this high end war? And does all this light vehicle business run contrary to the A400m primary user’s (BTW that is the Army not the RAF) vision of the future which is the rapid reaction armoured brigade (which is in itself bonkers.) If the Army’s new structure was centred on 3 x rapid reaction brigades using Bronco and CVT(R) type platforms it might make sense. We need 12 C130x enough to support SF and parachute training is what is needed; build on RAF expertise on type and shift the heavy work to somebody like Marshalls. And spend the rest on Chinook. Not £2billion more to be sunk into the great European project by the back door.

September 10, 2012 10:47 am

Simon; none, but some FOBs in AFG get supplies by some old light transport aircraft (STOL), dropped at low altitude with chutes.

Other bases get supplies by air drop by bigger mil. transport aircraft.

September 10, 2012 11:05 am

@All Politicians are the Same

You may not have noticed that the lighter vehicles you mentioned were often flown with civilian air transport into theatre without any problems.
Our problem isn’t so much that we lack good medium and heavy airlift, but that our business communities simply did not pick up Il-76s, An-124s and stuff for commercial air freight operations. We could do well without much military airlift even in our stupid military adventures overseas if only a Western airline or two had two dozen Il-76s and half a dozen An-124 in total.

You may not have noticed that there’s a widely perceived need for more small tactical (and really military) STOL transport aircraft, resulting in C-27J orders, many CN-235 customers, C-295 exports, continued An-32 production and the re-use of antique transport aircraft such as a Caribou over Afghanistan.

September 10, 2012 11:11 am

@ X

Couldn’t agree with you more, on trying to airlift a Brigades worth of kit to anywhere in the world in a short period of time.

It would be much better for the UK, if it was to purchase 2 USNS Bob Hope sized sealift ships. Each ship, loaded with all the necessary equipment to field a large Army Expeditionary Force and also the ground equipment for an RAF Expeditionary Force. Base one in Gibraltor/Cyprus and the other in Deigo Garcia.

The reason, I would go for something like a Bob Hope over a Point, is that most of the equipment would be carried in inside the ship in a controlled environment.

However, back to the topic in hand. Lockheed have had plenty of time to comeback with a C130XL. Is it because the USAF, are not interested in buying a A400 sized airlifter or that LM may want to build license build the A400 themselves, for the US Military?

September 10, 2012 11:28 am

@ Simon257

The US operate 175 C17 plus other lifters along with C130 (they have 77 C130J). The US are struggling to find a role for C27. Why? They have lots of Chinook and CH53, with MV22 coming along too for that extra range and speed if not lift. They don’t need a 30t lifter because they have more than enough lift.

I was being naughty mentioning ships. It isn’t really fair comparing apples with bananas. I just find it amusing how excited everybody is at the capability to move one container using £100million platform to do it.

We can’t afford to do everything. If we want to keep the US on side we need, unfortunately, to push our resources to the front.

September 10, 2012 11:56 am

£2billion would buy 2 C17, 12 C130x, and 22 extra Chinook.

How is the Parachute Regiment doing these days getting its new lads parachuted qualified?

How many C130 do we have in Afghanistan at the moment? How often do they parachute stuff because there isn’t a Chinook available? More often than 2 Chinook going somewhere because a C130 isn’t available I should wager.

If the C130 in the UK aren’t helping to train the Army’s finest what do they spend their time doing? Beyond exercising do they have a real role? Do we have any C130 in Cyprus?

September 10, 2012 12:29 pm

@ X

Not naughty at all to bring ships into it. But something to discuss post Afghanistan perhaps?

The USAF has been trying to curtail further C17 orders for a couple of years, but Congress disagrees with them and keeps on ordering them. Though how much of that is due to internal US politics is open to debate?

The USAF has never wanted the C27, ever and has done its level best to kill the project from the start. As it was the US Army that felt it needed it.

The USAF Non C130J Fleet must surely be coming to the end of their live, so they either they keep on ordering more J’s or they look for something else.

Let’s face it, we’ve been at war for 11 years now and HMG have never funded HM Armed Forces properly, have they? Otherwise the RAF, would be flying a dam-site more C17’s and CH47’s than we currently have!

It was US Def. Sec. Rumsfeld who came up with “Do more with Less!” and both Labour and the Conservatives have taken that quote to heart!

@ S O

Thank you for that. Would you know if the RAF, do multiple airdrops on regular resupply runs?

September 10, 2012 12:40 pm

@ Simon257

The US government is very much a collection of fiefdoms that make UK inter-departmental divisions look like small beer.

September 10, 2012 12:45 pm

@ X

One problem is that the top job position of the RAF, always goes to a FJ Pilot.

Parachute Training, now that is a good question, that needs to be asked!

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2012 12:48 pm

@ arkhangelsk

I am fairly firm on the premium I would pay. You list the advantages the A400M has, and they are real, but I also realize that for a certain set of missions I don’t need that full capacity, I just need an airframe right now and I am only willing to reduce my numbers for these type of planes so far if I am the US. I won’t take a 50% reduction in the force even if I had the same gross lifting capability because in many scenarios it will be more useful for me to have more aircraft around to do the jobs I need done.

Many of the advantages of the A400M are offset by me not getting to have as many around and them not being nearly as disposable if I need to use them in high risk environments. I want to be able to lose a few in certain situations. Here is how I came up with the numbers I did in my initial post.

By my very quick count the US has 772 C-130’s and variants in operation. If we limit our look to the 470ish or so pure transport planes of the USAF I would say I would be willing to run that force down to 350-375 if I got more capability out of the planes. However my other stuff I really can’t knock back at all. Those are gunships, electronic warfare aircraft of some flavor, special forces aircraft, weather planes, Marine tankers and so on where the numbers needed are pretty much fixed by operational reality.

In the end the military has a lot of needs and I don’t want to blow my money on this capability. If you want me to buy A400M’s instead of C-130J’s as the US Military then I want to spend roughly the same amount of cash on that force over its lifetime. That means I can afford to pay a premium that is basically equal to the amount of platforms I can take out of active service due to capability increases. I would be comfortable cutting the C-130 force by anywhere from 10-20% based on the above so that is the amount more I can afford to pay you.

I can’t justify paying anymore because that capability jump, while nice, does not make the thing a C-17 replacement. It is just a high end C-130 replacement.

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2012 12:52 pm


It is hard to know if the US wanted more C-17’s or not based on what the DoD ask congress for. If they know a program will get political cover it makes sense to not ask for it and then let the politicians stick it back in as extra spending.

The Other Chris
The Other Chris
September 10, 2012 12:57 pm

If only we’d have picked CTOL CVF we could land these A400M’s on the deck and deliver the Storm Shadows to fit inside the F-35’s internal bay in order to replace the NGS requirement of the T26…

September 10, 2012 1:08 pm

@ The Other Chris

I can see what you are doing, Stop trying to drag CVF into this!

Desk Jockey
Desk Jockey
September 10, 2012 1:09 pm

Nice post, but it does miss some of the commercial benefits of A400M. I don’t mean the industrial benefits, which were covered in the previous post more the commercial stuff that has a direct impacts on operations.

The Europeans are settling up a whole fleet support chain concept similar to that used by the C-17 and C-130 fleets. This is of course in its infancy, but should A400M get a load of export customers then there are loads of supply depots and economies of scale benefits to be had. Some of this will be able to piggyback on the existing Airbus supply chain. It will never rival the US supply chains for size, but once set up it does provide an alternative without needing silly money to do it.

The other big commercial draw is ITAR. People forget just what a pig of a law it is and the fact it can have severe limits on supporting ops. A400M has tried to be as ITAR free as possible, this will also be a big selling point to potential export customers. C-17 works for the UK because it is used in a way the US can approve of and because the UK has sacrificed any ability to influence the platform design, modifications or tactical equipment fit. A400M is meant to overcome these limits for the European and export partners thus giving them more options at a tactical level as well as saving on a shed load of red tape!

It isn’t just about size, it is about how you use it!

September 10, 2012 1:10 pm


Careful. You will be signing up the Voyager PFI bunch next to refuel the surface fleet.

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2012 1:14 pm

I don’t think you were ever going to land A400M’s on the deck of a carrier. They hardly got that C-130 down back when they did.

September 10, 2012 1:14 pm

@ Jeremey re C130

But isn’t the spin that A400m is the best of both worlds? It is better than C130, but can nearly do what C17 does. You are right it is what it is a bigger C130.

September 10, 2012 1:25 pm



In particular if we can get it to carry (that mythical wonder bird) FRES, then you have the jackpot. All of our flame wars in one post.

September 10, 2012 1:26 pm

Apparently the US has has 203 total (70 C-17, 133 C-17ER) in inventory as of November 2010. 223 funded with 10 remaining on order in June 2010 according to Wikipedia.

@ Jeremy M H re C130 on Forrestal

Apparently the trial went very well. I used to think it was a stunt and didn’t look into it much. But after prompting here I looked more closely and it was amazing how much of a margin they had with those landings.

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2012 1:45 pm


It went well but they basically had to clear the deck to get the thing down. The landing was not the problem really. It was the impact that such things have on flight operations that was the biggest problem. You certainly could do it. But not as part of regular operation. You would basically lose your flight deck for the period the thing is landing, aboard and taking off I would guess.

September 10, 2012 1:48 pm


Excellent article. Your point about how all types of military vehicles have grown in weight is well made. But is it unequivocal that we need an aircraft with a greater capacity than the C-130J presently offers? I am not sure it is.

One capability we do need is the ability to fly into rough airfields carrying Foxhounds, Jackals and Vikings, so that we can deploy some level of protected mobility immediately. C-130s can do this without a problem. That being the case, I tend to prefer a mixed fleet of more C-17s and C-130Js, especially if that gives us a higher total number of aircraft than C-17s and A400s. A significantly lower C-130J purchase price should more than compensate for the increased cost of the C-17 versus the A400.

That said, an important factor is that many of our C-130s are reaching the end of their airframe lives. We need new aircraft anyway. If that’s correct, you have to ask what Lockheed Martin is doing to upgrade the C-130? If it can produce a new aircraft with a substantially enlarged fuselage / cargo hold and with a 30-40% increase in load capacity, why not go for that, especially if it is cheaper than an A400?

That would be an interesting option. But as far as I know, the C-130M or whatever they call it will merely be an incremental upgrade. in which case, I cannot see why anyone would buy one instead of an A400. The A400 may be exact aircraft that the next iteration of the C-130 should have been and maybe soon everyone will be buying them.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
September 10, 2012 1:53 pm

RE: CTOL transport aircraft. Greyhound can carry 5 tons (less for carrier ops)

Chinook can carry 11 tons (?) fully loaded. As in the MTT concept I mentioned earlier ideally we would have the lifting and VTOL capabilities of the CH-47 and the speed and range of a turboprop.

September 10, 2012 2:04 pm

@ Jeremy M H

Yes totally impractical. But C130 performed well within parameters and that is what makes it interesting.

September 10, 2012 2:07 pm

About payloads

contrary to simplistic spec sheets, the story of airlift is rather complicated.

(1) individual aircraft/helicopters vary in their performance due to engine or (helos) gearbox inefficiencies which vary. Some aircraft fall short by a couple per cent power output, and even usually fine ones occasionally have a bad day with a minor technical issue reducing their output.
So we should always consider about 5% of payload as a precaution margin, not to be exploited regularly.

(2) Performance drops badly under hot or high conditions, and also somewhat with sand filters.

(3) Payload weight is rarely the problem. Almost all air lift ops are restricted (if at all) by volume or weight distribution and dimensions (such as height) are the more typical no-go problem than the weight of a single object.

September 10, 2012 4:16 pm

As always TD, a fascinating article, cheers.

Frankly I don’t see the problem. Our kit is getting bigger and heavier – fact. Much of it no longer fits into the standard tactical airlifter. So what’s the problem buying a bigger aircraft to do the same job? The C17 is expensive, and is restricted in where it can go, so why not have a truly multi-role aircraft that can do everything from shift one pallet to a hoofing great Mastiff or other protected vehicle?

And buying European is no problem as far as I’m concerned. British jobs and British industry benefit – better that that the US taxpayer.

September 10, 2012 4:20 pm

Seems a no brainer to me. I must admit prior to this article I didn’t think the A400M offered much more than a C130 but I am very happy to admit it offers a hell of a lot.

Looks beautiful and I am sure it will be a solid workhorse.

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2012 4:35 pm


The problem comes when you spend the money here and don’t have it to spend on say…Maritime Patrol Aircraft or another Astute Class submarine.

September 10, 2012 4:51 pm

Good post TD.

“Kawasaki C-1′s or Embraer KC-390′”
The 390 is still a paper product atm, with partner nations that will make A400 and Typhoon multi-nation mess-ups look like childrens party…
The Kawassaki C1 is no longer in production, and the airframes produced were a let down for the JSDF; the next gen C2 is still in pre-production… has been for a while, not to mention its designed solely for japaneese specs.

I like TD’s pointer on the ever expanding size and weights of kit, as I said in the last post; heavy fixed wing lift will need to do the first reaction lifting until the ships get there…

I’d still strongly argue for a small C-130J unit though.

September 10, 2012 5:00 pm

120t in one week which is 6 flights for a C130 and 10 flights for CH47. It seems more airframes are needed not few big ones. All that experience on type lost too.

I wonder how many drops are done for tactical reasons more than just can’t land the aeroplane anywhere? And that leads me to ask is C130 being used because CH47 isn’t available in sufficient numbers? And which is the more maintenance intensive CH47 or C130?

September 10, 2012 5:04 pm

Why are you comparing a support helicopter to an inter and intra theatre fixed wing transport? I don’t see Chinooks being able to move thousands of blokes and loads of cargo from Minab to Bastion or whatever the future equivalent will be.

It’s a cargo plane, since when did the need to fly cargo become an opportunity for some double loop paradigm shifting learning?

CH47s can’t maintain an air bridge. And increasingly C130 is becoming ever more restricted in its ability to do so. A400M seems to offer the chance to ensure we have effective air bridges well into the future.

Mike W
September 10, 2012 5:19 pm


Superb post, TD. Through copious and painstakingly researched examples you have proved beyond any doubt that our land equipment is becoming larger and heavier and needs a bigger aircraft to transport it. Like Phil, I was still somewhat dubious about the merits of the A400M but the article has changed my thinking. I think his (Phil’s) comment sums it up: “Seems a no brainer to me. I must admit prior to this article I didn’t think the A400M offered much more than a C130 but I am very happy to admit it offers a hell of a lot.” Also agree about its looks!

It becomes terribly confusing when trying to compare the two planes in terms of range and speed (so many different figures given) and obviously much depends upon payload but I think the A400M has considerable advantages in those two areas too. Am prepared to be proved wrong.

September 10, 2012 5:19 pm

@ The Other Chris – “If only we’d have picked CTOL CVF we could land these A400M’s on the deck and deliver the Storm Shadows to fit inside the F-35′s internal bay in order to replace the NGS requirement of the T26…” – I’m getting such a strong feeling of deja vu it’s spooky!

Anyone know how the yanks are going to deliver F135 engines to their carriers, they won’t fit inside a C2? No it’s not off topic, it’s air transport! :-)

@SI – nail on the head there; we have to replace our C130s so why not go for something bigger, faster and which puts at least some work our way. Besides, don’t LM have their hands full at the moment?

September 10, 2012 5:32 pm

@ Phil

Well if you had been here earlier I had been discussing how much the cost of 20 A400m buys in terms of C130x and CH47.

Without know where C130 is dropping these stores etc. we don’t know if a helicopter could or couldn’t have done it. I don’t believe for a moment there isn’t overlap that C130 is doing CH47 work because the latter isn’t available. We also discussed buying more conventional freighters and more C17.

Don’t panic. We all know you service types would endorse anything the MoD pushed out without really questioning it. We have ‘planes, they need replacing without question…..

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 5:42 pm

Does anyone actually know how much we are paying for an A400M?
I know TD quotes 140 million but the article below seems to infer that soemof the sunk costs which lead to the 140 million per aircraft tag will be repaid.,15240,225094,00.html


Though I belive they have dropped a 0 from the unit price attributed to partner nations.
The 110 million euros ties in with other things I have heard.

September 10, 2012 6:20 pm


If development spend is included then the UK budget for procuring 22 a/c with 3 options is just over 3b pounds and I think this includes the new hanger and training centre at brize norton and all things associated with a new fleet. The lower number 110m euro would I think be buying just the a/c itself.

As part of the re negotiated deal with airbus all partner nation will get a percentage of any future a/c sales.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 6:25 pm

Mark, That is what I was getting at. Any future sales will see a percentage paid back to the partner nations up to a limit that would see them having spent 110 million euros per airframe.

September 10, 2012 6:28 pm

“Does anyone actually know how much we are paying for an A400M?”

Doing a bit of research, the South Africans signed a deal in 2006 for eight aircraft, including some of the work share on the upper fuselage. The deal came to $308 million per aircraft. And that was 6 years ago. By 2009 the estimate was that the purchase price plus logistic package could top $495 million per plane.

September 10, 2012 6:29 pm

110-140 million euros; that sounds cheap as chips compared to £13 billion for 14 Voyager tankers.

September 10, 2012 6:31 pm

“We have ‘planes, they need replacing without question…..”

You’re really wearing out the old hard done by nobody in the service listens to me line.

The A400M offers a real increase in capability. It is not marginal as I thought, it is a real tangible increase which arguably unlike the F35 and Typhoon is actually needed and determined by the ever increasing weights and ranges these planes are expected to cope with.

I’ve never heard anyone even remotely suggest using CH47s to sustain an air-bridge which is thousands of miles long.

I’d bet the farm that if C130s are are dropping supplies its for reasons OTHER than there not being any Chinooks. Flights around Helmand are very routine for support helicopters and the distances in the TF AO are small enough that Chinooks etc can make several bounces to and fro.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 6:39 pm

Malaysian order for 4 including training and logistics costs them 175 million pounds each. Using todays exchange rates.

September 10, 2012 6:42 pm

Yes I know it’s not the most reliable source and a little off topic, but I thought you “flying wagon” types might find this interesting. What exactly would we do with nearly 2500 Challengers anyway?

September 10, 2012 6:53 pm

“Malaysian order for 4 including training and logistics costs them 175 million pounds each. Using todays exchange rates”

Which is about $280 million dollars a piece. About double the $140 million price listed in the article.

September 10, 2012 6:58 pm

India paid 1.2b dollars for 6 c130j including initial spares and training and that was last year.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 7:05 pm

Chris B, The price quoted in the article was 141 million pounds which is 225 million dollars. Also we hope to claw some of that back from our share of export sales and drive the final price down to teh agreed 90 million pounds or 110 million euro area.
The Malaysian contract simply stated it included logistics and training but not huge amount of detail.

The Other Chris
The Other Chris
September 10, 2012 7:35 pm

Voyager and FRES! How could I have left those out?

Duly noted for next time ;)

September 10, 2012 7:38 pm

The Indian deal was $962 million for six, and those were for special forces use. The deal included – amongst other things – six spare engines and 8 special operations suites, for an aircraft that was fresh into service, a problem we don’t have with Hercules.

That just makes it worse.

September 10, 2012 7:51 pm


Yes and the UK contract currently in place is for development production and initial support package. We choice to develop a/c you advocate that your self it means it pushes up contract price. Star Safire must be expensive.

The miltary sale document says 1.2b

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 7:59 pm

Chris B,

Not sure what makes it worse? That the Malaysian order is closer to what we paid or we paid more than you thought? You would be lucky to get a C130 with the support package our A400M has for 4140 million. Interestingly enough Malaysia is not buying them to replace their C130s but to carry things like helicopters and disaster relief equipment that their C130s cannot manage.
The Indian order is reported in some place as $964 million and in other as $1.2 Billion
$964 million
$1.2 Billion

Split the diference and we have the US charging $183 million dollars for a C130J and EADS $225 million for an A400M for export to Asia.
Roughly speaking you get 5 C130J for 4 A400M.
Now the figures are pretty rough and ready but as the A400 program matures we should be looking to drive costs down (so we get some money back) and also highlighting the masssive extra capability available for less cost difference than people think.

Also when they neter service every opportunity should be taken during exercises etc to deominstrate them flying large loads long distances directly into strips that other startegic transports cannot land at and offloading kit tactical transports cannot carry.
Even if it is not stricly required.

September 10, 2012 8:44 pm

@ APATS and Mark,

The Indian parliament was given the $964 million figure. The $1.2bn is “estimated” on a US press release. I think that favours the lower figure. Again, it was for a relatively new system with a some expensive add ons for specialist work.

As a veteran user of the Hercules many of those costs would not apply to us, for example; “… integration studies…. publications and technical documentation, …. personnel training and training equipment…. foreign liaison office support, Field Service Representatives’ services, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics personnel services, and other related elements of logistics support”

Most of that stuff we must either already have or I guess deemed not necessary with Hercules. There’s no way we’d end up paying $180 odd million for a Hercules, not with how long we’ve had it in service and how extensive our support system is for it now.

As for “Interestingly enough Malaysia is not buying them to replace their C130s but to carry things like helicopters and disaster relief equipment that their C130s cannot manage”. And stuff that we have Globemaster for.

I don’t doubt that Atlas is more capable than Hercules. It clearly is well ahead in the performance stakes. But it’s priced more like a Globemaster while falling short of that aircrafts performance. It seems like it’s built to fill the needs of some our allies and we’ve just tagged on to something that we don’t really need, for a price that doesn’t make sense.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 8:56 pm


We are buying 20 regardless. The more we sell abroad the cheaper our 20 get! A report to congress is hardly a press release.
The A400 in terms of export orders seems to be priced closer to a C130 than a C17. How many countries actually need C17 capability is the question that people should be asking.

I admit i was a sceptic before this article but have looking at the figures am slowly being converted. Maybe not for the UK but certainly for other countries and has the added attraction of being able to act as a tanker.

September 10, 2012 10:29 pm

The $1.2bn had “estimated” attached to it, and was part of a relatively short statement. The Indian government, the people actually paying for it, were told $964 million. I trust the official statement to the customers parliamentary body more.

“The A400 in terms of export orders seems to be priced closer to a C130 than a C17”

Canada picked up 17 stretched Herc J’s for about $80 million a piece, for an aircraft that was completely new into their service. Compared with what on average looks closer to $250-300 million a pop for Atlas. I’d say Atlas is coming a lot closer to Globemaster than Hercules for price.

Now before we picked up Globemaster, Atlas was on the cards and would have taken the long range heavy lift. That I perhaps could have nodded at and said “alright”, even though for a bit extra cash you get the greater capability of the Globemaster. But now? It makes no sense.

The 2008 NAO report into Hercules was very detailed and made the point that Hercules on operations is mainly doing what you saw in that video X posted; short flights, personnel shifts, a bit of light cargo movement. The problem was identified as a severe lack of airframes to cope with all the tasks, including training in the UK, not that the Hercules was incapable of lifting anything that really needed lifting.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 11:01 pm

Chris B, The Candians are buying them to replace E and H model Hercules. There does seem to be a big difference in price between buying a Hercy if you have never used them and if you have already have some but yes the Indians seem to have been slightly ripped off as the average price is closer to $100 million an air frame across the orders I have seen.
Given TDs figure for export C17 at $500 million for a usable aircraft and support the A400M is somewhere in the middle. As it is for a lot of things.
Where it should fight for sales are orders like the Malaysian order where they need something bigger than a C130 but either do not need a C17 or need the aircraft to have proper rough field capability.
Throw in the tanker capability and it should sell if the price is about $200 million.
As for the Uk, well my post ref whta will we use to fly around 3 pallets and a loady stands. Awaiting the next parts of a fascinating post.
Relatively fascinating as it does not involve Ships.

September 10, 2012 11:11 pm

Delving further into that NAO report, they put the price of new Hercs at about £37 million, then you need to add on some defensive aids. You’re still talking a 2:1 ratio at least of Hercules over Atlas.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 10, 2012 11:20 pm

Chris B

For the UK, it probably is a 2 to 1 ratio in terms of price.
Funnily enough despite being a huge fan of the A400 and believing that if the price can be held for export models at around $200 million it offers all the capability 95% of the countries in the world need from a stratetigic lifter and tanker. I cannot help but think it is less of a good fit for us.

September 11, 2012 12:48 am

Well prior to the C-17 purchase it could easily be argued that Atlas was perfect. It will fly the commercial routes, it will carry everything except maybe the AS90 and Challenger (but then if you’re relying on airlift to move those you have bigger problems than what aircraft they fly in, except in some rare cases), and it would have basically done everything that we expected from a heavy, strategic lift aircraft, for a price less than C-17.

But now?

Thanks to the delays we’ved ended up with 8 Globemaster and given that we have the support system in place for that, it’s possible we could bring in future C-17’s at a competitive price based on a multi-aircraft tender, and with some C-130’s stick to a two tier transport fleet (Voyager excluded, thanks to the PFI that will severely limit it’s capabilities to just personnel and the odd bit of pallet cargo).

From a cold start, head to head, you might take the Atlas because like you said, it’s the 95% solution. Now though? I think the boat has sailed somewhat.

Jeremy M H
September 11, 2012 1:06 am


I am with you. I think the A400M makes a lot of sense for most nations that are using it for both a tanker and their only lifter. It strikes me that the UK has one or two projects too many in this general area. The C-17 buy, the tanker program and the A400M all seem to be stepping on one another and don’t compliment one another well at all.

September 11, 2012 7:17 am

Hi TD,
Again an excellent article, can’t wait for part 3. On Defence Industry Daily, they have posted an update on the C130J, which is well worth a look.

September 11, 2012 9:44 am

I’m increasingly convinced the whole “total programme cost” thing conceals far more than it reveals. If you want to tot up the costs of flying training, maintenance, spares, infrastructure, and airframes, nothing stops you.

But in the other direction, if you get a big-num representing “everything vaguely to do with A400M” you can’t disaggregate it easily, and if you can’t disaggregate the costs, you can’t keep the contractor from stuffing the bill…further, it’s far too easy to accordion it by changing what is included and what is assumed (for example, interest rates or fuel prices in the distant future, or deciding to include pensions for personnel who spent 50% of their time on the A400M rather than 30% or 80%).

I think government is far too keen on “roll all your services into one easy payment!” offers. Businesses that do product bundling do so because it obfuscates the actual price of their products (think mobile phone price plans). This goes triple if there is financing involved (think those horrible BrightHouse shops selling TVs to the poor on HP), when you have the further parameters of the interest rate and the repayment period to fiddle with.

Total programme cost + Prime contractor model = Epic cost inflation (or capability erosion, depending on whether the inflation is accomodated or the order is cut).

September 11, 2012 9:56 am

Think Defence and Chris.B hit it on the head really.

Firstly the C130 cargo box is the same now as it was in 1967, they might of stretched some of them and the engines can haul more into the air then there is space in the hold but if the load is too wide or high forget it!

I do wonder why people obsess over hauling a tank into the air, an APC maybe but a full MBT?! As Chris.B points out things are seriously wrong if we are trying to load an aircraft with 70tons of tank! Anyhow the Point Class fast RoRo was purchased specifically to do that kind of work. If you are deploying a heavy armoured brigade then the RoRo is the best choice considering the logistics chain that has to go with them. Actually to trickle the tanks out in aircraft would take longer then just deploying on a fast RoRo!

September 11, 2012 10:35 am


It must be difficult to try and find a price per unit for the A400 because as you say the cost has all the development work and initial training and logistics thrown in.

I’m assuming the unit price would have been less if we had ordered more from the start? Are the German and French airframes going to be noticeably cheaper?

paul g
September 11, 2012 10:35 am

just out of interest, those first 4 C-17’s how much have they been hammered and how many flying hours does the frames have left? factor into that how many hours are they using per annum now, in respect to 2014, when should tail off a bit. Then again how many hours will they rack up getting whatever we are bringing back to the UK, back? i can’t see everything coming back by road/rail/sea.

September 11, 2012 10:43 am

I believe C17 seven and eight were purchased for the RAF mainly to help balance airframe life for the first six rather then an increase in capacity per-say!

September 11, 2012 4:03 pm

“I still dont think we can say an A400 equals two C130J’s and to be honest, even if it did, so what”

Hmmm, I think the Atlas will have to pull off something special to come in under the price of two Herc J’s.

It’s not really about lift though is it. We have C-17 now for the over sized stuff. Hercs appear to be mainly used to run around small supply packets (under ten tons), and short distance passenger work. The main problem seems to be not enough Hercs, which is a problem that Atlas is never going to solve.

September 11, 2012 4:16 pm

Perhaps but herein lies an opportunity to develop procedures and capabilities in line with the increased capabilities of the A400M. Who says we will use the A400M in the same manner we use the Hurc?

September 11, 2012 5:37 pm

The price of the A400 and the relative merits of it and the Hercules aside…

I keep thinking about the implications of having only 22 airframes in service as opposed to the 40+ that were available until recently.

Apologises if this has been covered before, but the Hercules have been pushed to the limit in supporting Herrick and seem to have been left in a pretty sorry state as a result.

I’m well aware that post 2014 we won’t be looking for any comparable long enduring operation, but that doesn’t mean it definitely won’t occur, plus it’s mandated in the SDSR to retain the ability to commit to a medium sized, rotational deployment.

So my convoluted and confused point is that significantly fewer airframes are going to have an impact on maintenance and service hours. No matter how capable 22 A400 may be they are still going to be doing the job that significantly more aircraft have done previously.

I guess it’s a bit like Type 45. They may be a quantum leap in capability over their predecessors but 6 hulls will struggle to do the job of 12, they just cannot be in 2 places at once. Those 6 are going to be worked far harder than expected and I think the A400 could well share the same fate.

Let’s buy some second hand (though still fairly new) German airframes when the opportunity arises!

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 11, 2012 5:43 pm

Challenger, here is hoping that the overlap between the intro of A400 and exit of the C130 combined with some export orders and refunds from EADS will allow us to end up with a balanced fleet.
My thought is that the C17/A400M mix may best be complimented by something smaller and cheaper than the C130.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
September 11, 2012 6:15 pm

@ Challenger – my fear as well. TD’s excellent articles have done a good job of selling the Atlas as a Herc replacement but numbers do matter.

But how do you get more numbers without sending huge ammounts. One possibly is to try and “push up” capabilities from below with a Chinnook replacement but that entails risks/costs. Another is to “add-on” to a possible MPA replacement which can”swing role”. Any other ideas?

Brian Black
Brian Black
September 11, 2012 6:18 pm

The prospect of a small fixed-wing utility aircraft to complement the A400 doesn’t seem too wild. We’ve had discussions about MPA and manned ISTAR, and the idea of a light cargo aircraft -capable of trucking a variety of palletised role equipment- has often come up.

Would any of you who are saying that without Hercs RAF lift is becoming too heavy, change your mind about the A400 if a C295-a-like entered service too? Or would the A400 still be a no-no?

Jeremy M H
September 11, 2012 6:27 pm

I think the A400 might make sense in that role but for the most part I believe the US found it was no less expensive to just operate their C-130’s instead of C-27’s. I can’t imagine the C295 would change that equation much. For a while at least it would likely make just as much sense to cannibalize what C-130’s you do have and keep a fleet of those operating.

Of course the major issue there is that now you are operating 4 types of aircraft as tankers/transports (A330, C-17, A400M, C-130/C295). My issues with the A400M are not really a standalone for this program. It is when they are combined with the tanker deal and the C-17’s that it starts to look like a giant cluster screw to me.

September 11, 2012 6:28 pm

Total Fleet numbers are not the critical number. Its force elements at readiness for uk tasking requirements. Whats the availability on herc like in the current fleet? How many hours do we get out of one each day and how many aircraft are available for task from the fleet and how would that compare with 22 a400m. How many personnel support the current herc fleet and how many in future will support A400m and how does that fit into the future RAF manning requirement. Will a400m require less training than herc or how would additional hercs effect the future training fleet. As modern military a/c become more reliable and sims improve the crew to plane ratio could increase (some could be rauxf as these cockpits are very similar to civil airbus ones) like has been the case in the civil world for many years.

I suspect the future little brother post maybe involve a c-295 possibly dual hatted as a mpa.

September 11, 2012 6:47 pm

I wonder where the three Bae 146 will end up. As they are still a UOR they will be desposed of come 2015. However I wonder if there is some use in them for years to come. 32 Sqn are a lot busier than people think, they keep a lot of their deteachments out of the media, I think that some use can be made of them. People talk of being something smaller to fit in below the C-130 I think it’s best to use what we have and more of it if we can as for reasons obvious. The C-130 often hop around Europe perfroming short trips with fairly low loads although that isn’t all their work load enough but in my opinion enough to keep them in service.

@ Mark

‘How many personnel support the current herc fleet and how many in future will support A400m and how does that fit into the future RAF manning requirement. Will a400m require less training than herc or how would additional hercs effect the future training fleet. ‘

What sort of manning per 1000 FH (or however Airbus have worked it out) is the A400M looking at at the moment? Alot will be by RAF manning, nevertheless that number would be informed by Airbus and their estimates, Mark did you ever come across such numbers?

September 11, 2012 7:15 pm


I have not seen figures broken down that far only to inspection intervals. But they may well be contained in the a400m technical specification document which is not open source information.

BAE146 are interesting choices it will be interesting to see how they perform.


The c17/a400m/a330 purchases make sense if you look at almost any lessons learned report of any uk or NATO operation (excluding US assets) going back years and I bet AAR and strategic transport will figure very high up a list of capability shortfalls.

September 11, 2012 7:15 pm


A good point on the BAE 146, I’m not sure if they will be retained post 2015 either, but I think it’s better to utilise and possibly expand a current aircraft type rather than introduce something new in-to the mix. I’m sure we could pick up a few more on the cheap and use them as short-hop, light transports.

@Swimming Trunks

Although expensive and problematic I’m sure the Atlas will eventually prove to be a very capable aircraft that offers several advantages over the Hercules.

I would be keen to look at pushing existing capabilities rather than introducing another new aircraft type.

As I said perhaps some second-hand A400 will be going for a reasonable price? Or maybe a small amount of C-130J retained and upgraded, theoretically for SF but actually also used for some general transport/cargo work? How about a few more BAE 146? I think their are plenty of options worth considering.

If it was a new aircraft type then I definitely agree on it being swing-role with something like MPA.

Jeremy M H
September 11, 2012 7:38 pm


I agree that those are areas of shortfall but I don’t think the present combination was the best way to address it. One of the three shouldn’t be there in my view or at the very least should be a cheap program rather than a new unit purchase. It is just too much money tied up in one area for my taste given all the other cuts that have been made.

Somewhere in that list the UK could have done with less than the best and less than brand new. Everyone else did for the most part. The US, Australia and Canada lived with the C-130. Germany looks like they plan to live with the A400M as their tanker and have no C-17’s. The French are making do with their KC-135’s and A400M’s as tankers and no C-17’s.

No one is going all in on brand new equipment in all three categories. When the UK does that and then can’t afford say Maritime Patrol Aircraft I start to wonder where the problem is and it strikes me that the UK overbought here. Even the US is not going with all new and high end for these needs. The UK is and other areas of the defense budget are being left to suffer badly.

September 11, 2012 7:46 pm


Australia and France are acquiring a330 tanker aircraft. Australia has also purchased c17 and France is buying twice as many a400m as the uk.

The cost of a400m and c17 is over 1b pounds less than the type 45 destroyer program and a330 has no upfront cost.

Jeremy M H
September 11, 2012 8:00 pm

Australia also went the cheap route on tactical transport sticking with the C-130 instead of the A400M.

France opted out of C-17 class aircraft (and also has not signed for the A330 tanker yet). I will be a believer in the A330 tanker buy when they actually sign the contract. They pussyfooted around with many projects over the years and managed to stretch out the buy of the Charles DeGaulle out over the course of 12 years of start and stop work. Even if they do buy it they still did not go all in across the spectrum like the UK has.

Like it or not the UK is on an island in regards to what it elected to do here. It went the most expensive routes possible across the board.

September 11, 2012 8:00 pm


‘But they may well be contained in the a400m technical specification document which is not open source information. ‘

I’m sure they’ve done the figures and now doubt they’ve compared it to the C-130 manning/running costs and spent a lot of time doing so. So no surprise they’ve kept it under wraps.

@ Mark/Challenger

‘BAE146 are interesting choices it will be interesting to see how they perform.’

32 Sqn have a understandable low profile, but the little I do hear about them it’s only good things. Some really do sing it’s praises although how objective that is I don’t know. In a wider sense across the world, I’m not sure it sold as many as perhaps should have. You hear very little about cutting back on the Bae 146 and they are under a fair bit of demand I think that tells it’s own story. I think there is a role for them beyond 2015.

September 11, 2012 8:26 pm


Occar should have that analysis also as airbus will have supplied it to them on a400m. Competitive intelligence is most certainly done.

I think 32 Sqn often doesnt gets enough credit. Dont really know a great deal other than some press articles but I think they get very unfairly linked with pm travel ect when they’ve been deployed on mid east ops for years.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 11, 2012 8:30 pm

Mark , No A330 will merely suck us dry for years and we are not allowed to utilse it the A400m to their full potential because of the contract.

Like for like please, comparing the cost of a transport programme to the worlds most advanced AAW Destroyer!
the 4 MARS tankers at 450 million for 4 or the 4 Bays (never should have sold one) at a similar price would be a better comparison.

September 11, 2012 8:55 pm


Can the navy tanker refuel over the north Atlantic and over afghan and transit the globe in 24hrs:)

Jeremy was complaining it was a high spec requirement. I was merely pointing out it not a huge spend when considered in the round against other high spec requirements. Add in waves and stores ships would be possible a fair comparison.

I would not have gone pfi but the price does include fuel ect and is about the price per plane NATO is paying for global hawk, would have considered a direct lease from airbus first though. Im not entirely sure it does stop us using a400m in the tanker role I’ve heard rumours its not quite as popularly portrayed.

Jeremy M H
September 11, 2012 9:36 pm


I would not say complaint so much as criticism of priorities. The UK has decided it has a much different and much higher cost need in a pretty concentrated area (air mobility generally) and I just don’t see it. No other nation has made the same decisions as the UK despite chances to do so. Because of that I question whomever set the spending priorities for the UK.

John Hartley
John Hartley
September 11, 2012 9:43 pm

I got into the wooden mock up of the A400 all those years ago at Farnborough. Took me a while to realise the small red frame represented the size of the C-130. It looked tiny inside the A400 bay. So I like the A400, but looking at the Douglas C-133 Cargomaster of the 1950s/60s, that could lift 49 tons for around 1000 miles, though usual payload was 24 tons over 4000 miles. So why is a 2012 A400 limited to 37 tons when a 1956 C-133 could carry 49 tons?
I think the 10 short body RAF C-130J should be given the same radar & EO turret of the US Coastguard versions. This can do maritime patrol/SAR, yet is still able to do transport tasks, as the cargo hold remains intact.
Medium tasks to the 22 new A4ooM
Large loads on the 8 C-17.
So a 40 strong airlift fleet of small, medium & large.
All we then need to do is bring back the crime of treason to deal with all those connected with the A330 Voyager fiasco.

September 11, 2012 11:08 pm

@ Mark,

“Total Fleet numbers are not the critical number. Its force elements at readiness for uk tasking requirements. Whats the availability on herc like in the current fleet?”

According to the NAO it’s around 85-94% available to fly planned missions in Afghanistan, but less at home (between 72-75%), as support and staffing is prioritised to maintain operations.

And you of all people should know that a larger total fleet number gives you an advantage in providing FE@R. If we pick up 22 Atlas, how many can you deploy to theatre? 1 in 4? That’s 6 aircraft. Back in ’08 we had a total Herc fleet numbering around 50, and they struggled to maintain committments on operations while still providing enough hours for training at home. It would be a reasonable punt to suggest that a fleet half the size will have a harder time.

Now in theory, the Atlas can carry more so you could argue that it could shift the same amount of material with less airframe hours used. But it appears that the majority of the work being done by the Hercules is short haul work, carrying less than its maximum capacity (including a lot of air drops to ease pressure off the Chinooks). Atlas’s larger payload capacity would be rendered irrelevant if it had to replace the Hercules role for role in this kind of operation.

In that regard, maybe Brian Black is right. Maybe you could gradually phase out C-130 and replace it with something smaller like C-295 or C-27?

I know the colonials didn’t get on well with the C-27, but then they have more C-130’s than we have fixed wing aircraft in the entire RAF, and that’s before we get on to helicopters.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 11, 2012 11:29 pm


Wiki and I hate to use it reports the Phillipines have ordered 3 C27 for $45 million each.

September 12, 2012 7:02 am


I think your fleet of 50 hercs in 2008 was prob closer to 35 and probably be closer to 30 or less for the last couple of years. 50 has been a very notional number for some time. But say your larger fleet of hercs had 24 a/c available and the a400m had 18 available. But if my 18 carries more flys faster and doesn’t need to stop as much on longer flights do I have possibly more capability to meet post sdsr requirements. Available crews prob have more to do with numbers deployed than total a/c numbers.


We’re spending less on the transport a/c than France are spending on there fleet prob less than Germany and uk spent more trying to acquire 9 mpa a/c than there spending buying a400m. We spent more on subs and aaw ships than France or Australia also but that’s not to critise that it’s just where are priorities are different to others.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
September 12, 2012 7:47 am

There are some other problems with reducing aircraft fleet numbers.

At the moment we have a VC10 tanker and a C130 permanently in the Falklands . Will we want to base an A330 and a A400 down South?

Now I know the argument could be that we keep on a VC10 and C130 but what do the crews do when not down South? How do they stay current when rotated out as per the RAF deployment roster? How do we justify the spares, maintenance and training burden for such a small aircraft number?

We could takeaway the tanker capability but that reduces the ability to maintain a CAP with the small number of Typhoon we have there.

If we had an A400 tanker capable we could use one air frame but we will not.

I am sure the issue has been addressed but would love to see the thought process and outcome.

September 12, 2012 9:34 am


I agree with you on the falkland. It seems madness to have one of our a330 down there when a400m could possibly do the job on its own.

I would like the see the 3 options exercised and the fleet of a400m kept at 25 with 1 in the Falklands as tanker transport. With vc10 and herc k out of service in the next 12 months we soon know.