The Airbus A400M Atlas – Part 5 (Say Hello to My Little Brother)

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

Despite the A400M Atlas not actually being some behemoth when compared to the C130J it is true that in enduring operations many of the intra-theatre air transport flights will be used for time sensitive cargo that is much below the maximum weight and volume of even the c130J.

This opens up a potential requirement for a smaller aircraft.

I know I have been pretty supportive of reducing aircraft types and banging the multi role drum but this is driven not by some dogmatic desire to see as few aircraft types in service as possible but by the cost of maintaining multiple aircraft types in service when one will do.

Any view on whether such an aircraft would be worth investing in would come down to that balance of the costs of such an aircraft fleet and the cost of using the A400M Atlas at payloads far below its capabilities.

A number of other factors could be considered; balancing airframe hours on the A400M, using contractors, reducing airframe hours on the Chinook, the potential for this smaller aircraft to be used in other roles (especially maritime patrol and manned ISTAR), what it would need to carry and commonality with other equipment in service.

One way of looking at this is instead of a smaller compliment to the A400M, a larger and cheaper to operate Chinook, without the vertical lift ability of course. That said, if we did want a cheaper alternative to the Chinook for air transport of slung cargo then we would do well to shift our gaze to the unmanned K-Max, one of those programmes I have been following for a long time and commenting on regularly, the first time here.

For years ISAF has been using contractors to provide air transport and air despatch using smaller aircraft like the Airbus C212’s and AN25’s. The development of low cost air despatch /air dropping equipment has allowed these cheap aircraft to be of much greater usefulness.

Studies by the USAF and Army have shown that for a very high percentage of short range, intra theatre transportation tasks in ongoing operations the payload utilisation figures are very low. This prompted the purchasing of the C27J as a replacement for the ancient Shorts Skyvans but they have since been put up for sale, the Royal Australian Air Force snapping up a few of them as a Caribou replacement.

I can see two distinct categories here, proper military transports with good short field performance and the ability to carry 463L pallets for conventional or airdrop delivery and something smaller than that, used mainly for personnel and very light stores.

What seems to delineate these two categories is the existence of a rear ramp so the equipment described below is split into ramp equipped and non ramp equipped types.

Looking at the options below I think I could see a use for the C235/295 but only if the Maritime Patrol version were also utilised, the BAE146 seems a sensible addition and the Twin Otter might provide a useful replacement for the Defenders.

Ramp Equipped

The ideal payload bracket would be as that of the Chinook, about 5-10 tonnes, 20 -40 seats but with higher volume for low density cargo and air dropped pallets.

AleniaAermacchi C27J Spartan

The C27J Spartan is an updated version of the G222 and has some commonality with the C130J. Of course the RAF C130J’s will be going out of service but one wonders if some aspects of the C130J logistics and training capability might be reused in some way.

At its most basic, the C27J is a cut down C130J, its performance is impressive, 600kph, 3000km range (8 tonnes), take off distance at max weight 580m, landing distance at max weight 340m and a maximum payload of 11.1 tonnes in the logistic mission (less in the assault role)

The cargo hold can carry up to 60 personnel, 46 paratroopers, 3 463L pallets, 36 stretchers or 6 airdrop bundles. Its cargo box width allows light vehicles to be carried like the Land Rover, Ocelot, Jackal and Viking for example, although these would be the exception, pallets and personnel being the rule.

Other missions for the C27J would be maintenance of parachute drop capabilities, which has proven difficult in recent times due to a lack of airframes and special-forces support.

Although now put on hold the US had intended to use the C27J as a basis for the AC-27J Stinger II gunship variant, an interesting proposition that would deliver a serious capability upgrade for UK forces although in the previous post on the A400M, the Atlas might be a better option.

It is very difficult to gauge an in service cost but the US sale would indicate about £30million each including logistics, simulators, training etc.

The C27J is a dedicated military tactical airlifter; it is not multi role and would seem to be the most expensive in this group but what it does, it does very well.

Airbus C212

The CASA Airbus C212 is what one might call a mature design with many in service across the world.

Able to carry 25 personnel, a lightweight vehicle or just under 3 tonnes of stores with a range of 435km it is optimised for airdrop and short field operations.

Airbus C235

A step up from the C212, the C235 would be a good fit for the role.

With a maximum payload of 6 tonnes, 4 463L pallets, 51 passengers or 35 paratroopers it has a much greater capacity than the C212.

CASA and Airbus continually stress the low operating cost of the C235 and the US Coast Guard use them in the maritime patrol role.

US Coastguard C295 (HC-144)
US Coastguard C295 (HC-144)

Airbus C295

The C295 is basically a stretched version of the C235, sharing the majority of the systems and components.

It can carry 9 tonnes in its very long cargo hold, 12.7m. This means 71 seats or 5 463L pallets to a maximum range at full payload of 1,300km.

Whilst the C295 might not have the same short field performance as the C235 or definitely not the C27J it has the benefit of a large cargo hold which is optimised for the kind of intra theatre short and frequent flights that characterise this requirement.

Where the C235 and C295 lose out to the C27J is in cargo hold height and width which makes it less suitable for the outsize cargo but the flip side is the C295 (especially) has benefited from Airbus developing the basic aircraft with a number of specific equipment configurations.

This is a major plus point for the C295 if we can sacrifice some rough field performance and outsize cargo capability.

For the maritime patrol version changes made from the baseline transport design includes the installation of the fully integrated tactical system mission suite (FITS) configured with four onboard operator stations, sonobuoy dispenser equipment, magnetic anomaly detector boom, defensive systems, 6 under wing hard points and a FLIR sensor turret

The FITS mission system is mature and extremely capable, including search radar, electro-optic / infrared sensors (EO/IR), electronic support measures (ESM) / an electronic intelligence system (ELINT), COMINT, a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), an IFF interrogator, a SATCOM, a datalink and a Link-11. Endurance is reportedly 11 hours or 6 hours on station at 200nm range.

One of the great strengths of the C295 MPA is its versatility, the rear cargo door and palletised mission systems allow the same aircraft to be used for a number of roles. Standard 463L pallet compatibility means that in an expeditionary deployment it can carry its own spares or other stores, as an example.

In conjunction with IAI, Airbus have even developed an AEW version and have proposed a gunship.

C295 Gunship
C295 Gunship

Non Western Designs

For completeness there is also the Antonov AN-74, Sukhoi SU80 and Pzlmielec M28

The M28 is perhaps the most sensible option of the three, although I have a sneaky admiration for the AN74.

The M28 Skytruck has modern avionics and engines and its unique party piece is a quite incredible short field performance

Non Ramp Equipped

There are a number of non ramp equipped designs but there utility is compromised severely by the inability to offload pallets easily.

The two that immediately spring to mind are the BAE146 and Viking Twin Otter

BAE 146

As you will know, the RAF has recently obtained under a £16m UOR a couple of BAE146’s to support the Afghanistan air bridge.

The 146 is actually an impressive aircraft and still in widespread service, including with the RAF.

BAE has continually tried to interest buyers in more military oriented versions equipped with inflight refuelling probes and rear ramps with the latest effort called the 146M.

An earlier version even progressed to a demonstrator stage

BAe146 1002: G-BSTA British Aerospace BAe Hatfield

With up to 100 passengers or 11 tonnes it could fly just under 3,000km.

Twin Otter

The DHC-6 Twin Otter is an old favourite, hard as coffin nails, versatile and in possession of short field performance that shames most of the aircraft in this post.

Watch this video and be amazed

Viking Air of Canada recently resurrected production of the venerable DHC Twin Otter and have been getting some serious orders from customers as diverse as the Vietnamese Navy and Zimex Aviation in Switzerland.

The Series 400 has many improvements over the old model and its versatility is obvious; wheels floats or skis and the environmental hardening to operate in these diverse environments mean its legendary toughness has been retained.

Performance highlights are as follows;

STOL Takeoff and Landing Distance: 1200 ft (366m) (Takeoff distance to 50 ft)

Maximum Cruise Speeds: TAS Sea Level: 170 kt, 5,000 ft: 181 kt, 10,000 ft: 182 kt

Payload for 100 nautical mile (185km) range: 4280 lb (1941 kg), 400 nautical mile (741 km) range: 3250 lb (1474 kg)

Maximum Endurance with Standard Tankage (2583 lb (1172 kg) fuel): 7 hr 10 min, with Long Range Tankage (3190 lb (1447 kg) fuel): 9 hr

Viking have also introduced  the Guardian 400 specifically for the surveillance, security, sovereignty and search and rescue market that has an extended range fuel tank (10 hour operations) and an electro-optical and infrared imaging turret which can be displayed on either the flight deck Honeywell Primus Apex Multi Function Display, or on a separate cabin console.

Viking Twin Otter Guardian
Viking Twin Otter Guardian

Other features might a include spotter camera, laser range finder, laser illuminator a light weight, 360 degree digital color radar system with Track-While-Scan capability, including long range navigation position update, target positions transmission, location latitude and longitude, target heading and velocity. The Guardian 400  will be equipped with 4 crew observation stations, rescue equipment drop hatch, air operable cargo door, search light, and a galley with adjacent lavatory and not forgetting, 4 wing hard points for additional stores.

The base aircraft can also be fitted with skis and floats.


This is the last part of the 5 part series on the A400M Atlas, hope you have enjoyed it!


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All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
September 16, 2012 9:27 pm

Another good post.
Does anyone know how many components and systems overlap between CN295 and A400M. Thinking cockpit controls etc.
Also palletised mission kit, can airbus make them @air bus@ compatible so I can have a CN 295 MPA but of intel suggest I need a longer range I can pull the same mission kit and put it on an A400M.
A really clever manufacturer would have interchangeable kit able to be swapped between their aircraft. So an A400 gunship may mount a 105MM a 30Mm and 20Mm with palletised controls and turrets but the CN 295 could take the 20MM and 30MM from same kit.
Would take a lot of basic design work but surely worth it in the long run.

September 16, 2012 9:36 pm

Yes swap and change kit. I suppose it will work if the pilot has time to work up with a new piece of ordnance banging away in the back.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
September 16, 2012 9:51 pm

X, A stick monkey is a stick monkey!

No seriously it would have to be considered and worked out. The air frame from a cockpit point of view would be the same, the manner they flew it in would be different. The actual mission orientated stuff would be done back in the hold but it may be simpler to have different flight crews as there would undoubtedly be rules on currency etc.

September 16, 2012 9:59 pm

Thanks for a great series ive enjoyed reading them.

a400m pulls most of its cockpit and systems over from a380 so similarity with cn-295 would be limited in that perspective. FITS pallets would be compatible with both a/c.

Peter Elliott
September 16, 2012 10:05 pm

Depending on how capable the FITS systems are you could perhaps conceive of the C295 being developed to replace the R1 Sentinel as well as fulfilling the MPA and ASW role. Persuing ruthless commonality to a logical conclusion the AEW variant could then follow on from E3 Sentry as well.

The only thing lacking in C-295 is the ability to take off and land from the deck of a QEC. I wonder if the FITS pallets (and external sensor gubbins) could be made to ‘fit’ in the back of a V-22? Presumably Boeing have their own version of the FITS system that they are busily pitching to anyone who will listen.

September 16, 2012 10:12 pm


All the time I have spent here telling, nay preaching, the great unwashed that a ship has to work up it isn’t just a question of jump in and go, then you say that….. :)

Not sure about modularity at all. Between complexity of systems and availability of airframes I just don’t see how it works.

September 16, 2012 10:12 pm

I am not sure how much compatibility there is between the CN235/C295 and the A400M – the former were designed before they came under Airbus Military.

The concern with the C-295 is a long, low and comparatively narrow hold, which causes problems with the standard pallets normally used on the bigger birds.

The MC-27J from Finmeccanica especially as the gunship element is modular with the weapons can be installed and uninstalled very quickly. There is even an electonic variant, the EC-27J “Jedi”

A more unusual option might be the work that LM did with the X-55 ACCA, adding a rear ramp to the 328Jet and develop that further or have BAe apply this to 146/RJ models.

As for a smaller aircraft the RUAG 228 seems to offer a variety of options to replace the Defender/Islander and even the King Air

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
September 16, 2012 10:22 pm

X, The way i would look at from a ship point of view is that you are putting a different ops room in the same ship but in a simpler environment.

The pilot can make the air frame launch from x and fly to y landing and unloading cargo.

Now the pilot is skilled and qualified, can the same pilot follow directions from the “cargo bay” ops room that directs him to fly a patern based on a datum at x height. The run a set course for MAD detection or sonbuoy launch or weapon release. Shouldn’t be too difficult.
May be more difficult for a gunship role bur understand they fly an orbit based on the side the main gun is on.
Not quite as complex as working up 250 people to carry out AAW, ASuW, ASW, disaster relief, SAR, boarding’s, MSA, Flight ops, Damage control, gps denial navigation etc which are some of the boxes a ship has to tick before an op deployment.

September 17, 2012 8:23 am

Very good series TD. I can certainly see a need for a smaller transporter in RAF service. The C27J would seem to offer the best options. I wonder if there would be any way to have this in a MPA role and special forces support role?

September 17, 2012 8:51 am

A recent flight test of the RUAG 228 here:

Could replace Islanders, King Airs (which will still have pretty good resale value), 146s and some of the roles done by Hercs, Pumas, Chinooks, Merlins, etc. Armed, a la Iraq’s Cessna Caravans, and it could take some of the jobs currently done by Apaches.

September 17, 2012 8:57 am

, the C27J was considered by the US Coastguard but lost out to the CN235. I believe however there are proposals to allow them to take over the C27J being removed from the USAF/US Army inventory. Personally an MPA based on an airliner such as the Q400/ATR72 or the smaller Do328/ATR42 might be more interesting.

The most recent MC-27J offered by Finmeccanica differs from the dedicated gunship the Stinger/Praetorian by being designed to swap between this role and Tactical transport,

The EC-27J ‘Jedi’ is a mini version of the EC130H Compass Call and is the EW version designed to disrupt radio signals etc.

A mini fleet of C27J covering MP/SAR, TactTrans/gunship, and EW would be an excellent addition IMO

September 17, 2012 9:02 am

Having said that, rumour was the US Army wanted the C-295. An Airbus buy could give

Tactical Transport
ELINT/EW package (ordered by Finland)

and any limitations could be overcome by its versatility.

September 17, 2012 9:18 am

i always presumed that access to small tactical airlift was the quid-pro-quo for french access to the voyager fleet in the lancaster agreement.

September 17, 2012 10:11 am


Yes. What I can never quite get my head round is that these aeroplanes are tested to death even if they are single purpose. Pilots have to be qual’ed for all sorts of scenarios. Yet what is being proposed is that we just wheel in stuff to the back of a transport and away we go. One assumes that these modules come with APUs to generate extra electrical need to power them. And if there is an APU it will need fuel. What about access to the outside of the hull for sensors and weapons? What about common wiring between variants? Is it cheaper to use a transport with austere landing capability as say an MPA? A good chunk of that £100m is spent on big tyres, suspension dampers, and beef structure for high wings. Talking of structure, again for MPA, will they all come with a hatch for sonar buoys? Or will they just sling them out the back. Even the colour they are painted and what they are painted with must be a consideration. And like I say an airframe can only be in one place at one time. There comes a time when compromising and sharing don’t work.

Multitools are useful. But if a plumber turned up at your house armed with only a Leatherman you would be worried.

Peter Elliott
September 17, 2012 11:23 am

I would imagine that most airframes and crews would stay on one task most of the time – for all the obvious reasons.

Day to day savings would come from common maintenance arrangements of a common platform on a single site.

The second advantage would be that in an emergency you could swap mission equipment round and re-qualify crews with comparitively short lead times compared to totally different bespoke platforms.

So if we bought, just for example, 20 airframes we might normally have 5 of each on MPA, ELINT, AAW, Transport. (ie 15 with mission kits and 5 without plus some spare kits used for ground based training). It could stay that way for years at a time.

But if an emergency came along we get options. We could (a) scrounge up every mission kit and surge one of the specialist capabilities (b) take all the mission kits off and surge to 20 transporters or (c) re-role just a coulple of the transport planes to cover deep mainenance on the specialist airframes.

So for me its about contingecy rather than slinging specialised gear on and off planes day in day out.

Peter Elliott
September 17, 2012 11:28 am

Referencing another favourite TD Doctrine: it all depends on whether the individual capabilities are “good enough”.

Does FITS do what it says on the tin?

Is the size, range, endurance and survivability of the C-295 “good enough” to replace platforms like Nimrod, Global Express or E3 Sentry?

September 17, 2012 4:47 pm

Nothing will ever truly replace the capability of Nimrod, as nothing has the range or endurance anymore. P8 is a poor replacement notwithstanding all the shiny electronics grafted on.

We’ve discussed this before and the idea to have a common EW/AEW/ELINT/SAR/MPA airframe has merit. But it’s very, very difficult to have an aircraft that can combine long range and long endurance with short field performance and high cargo capacity. However, there is merit in examining the C27 again – I’d written it off as too old a design, but if there is a new update available, maybe even a fuselage plug to stretch it and lets face it, any palletised mission system can be rolled into almost any airframe, then perhaps there is a future for this option. C295 is a solid bet, but the cargo size limits are a constraint.

However, there is no money, and the RAF higher echelons have zero interest in the MPA replacement (it is being driven exclusively by RN staff at MOD). A common requirement encompassing all three services has about as much chance of succeeding as a chocolate fireguard in a blast furnace. In any event, MOD will not justify operating four separate transport aircraft fleets. The future of the RAF’s heavy aircraft fleet is in complete chaos – the Sentry desperately needs a mission systems upgrade, there is no appetite for an MPA any time in the next 5 years, the Sentinel is hanging on having barely escaped the last defence review, the Hercules is being dragged right as the Atlas fails to arrive on time and the C17 and Voyager aircraft fleets are brand new and nigh-on untouchable. Chinooks are in desperately short supply, the Merlins have gone to the CHF and the Pumas are old airframes being given a temporary extension to service. There is no clear plan, nor even a clear ambition, other than more fast jets. I fear this good and practical idea is doomed to failure.

September 17, 2012 6:11 pm

I read that one of the issues with the Nimrod as a platform was it was actually a little too small.

Are these small cargo planes big enough for MPA etc.?

September 17, 2012 6:36 pm

Personally I’d like to work with the Canadians who eventually have a CP140 replacement need.

The CS100/300 seems an ideal platform with a modern composite airframe with modern engines, better corrusion resistant than the 737/A320 airframe.

A CSeries variant would be big enough for an AEW replacement, an ELINT/EW version and a MPA/SAR aircraft

September 17, 2012 7:09 pm

@ Peter E

I was being a bit flippant about sliding stuff in and away we go. My problem with modules for aircraft is the same problem I have with modules for ships. It seems an attractive idea to devoice capability from platform (vehicle). But the vehicle is the other half of the solution. If the vehicle doesn’t have the speed or endurance or other performance criteria then the capability is flawed. I think the number of airframes has been bashed death to somewhere else. But if the UK needed 25 Nimrod, needs 20 to 30 transports etc., 20 or so AWACS/ASaC/SIGINT platforms; 100 airframes or so. You could say economies of scale. But all those missions need different things and don’t need others from the actual airframe irrespective of the electronics or whatever is being humped about to get the job done. (Even if the whatever is fresh air……)

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
September 17, 2012 8:28 pm

@ TD – excellent series, yet again.

If we were to have a smaller transport it should have rough/semi-prepared field capability, to perform the spoke part of a hub and spoke operation and be able to use any/most of the modualr equipment used by the A400.

September 17, 2012 8:36 pm

Op3, not sure where you got that idea from. 300 sonobuoys, weapons bay capable of holding 8 Stingray, Searchwater radar, 8-10 hour endurance – the only thing bigger was a Bear Foxtrot! P8 has a smaller weapons bay and carries fewer sonobuoys plus has a shorter range. Nimrod was one of the biggest and best.

As for size, obviously it depends upon what your ASW mission is. If you are going littoral against the SSK, you need fewer buoys and pay more attention to radar, MAD and visual sensors – so a C295 would be adequate. In open ocean against the nuclear threat, you can easily get through a hundred passive buoys in a few hours. Then, having flown however far from your home base, you do not want to be dropping two or three weapons then have to go home for reloads, whilst in the meantime the sub escapes. For a realistic prosecution, you need a chain of up to six weapons so either you need a large weapons bay or a second aircraft at the short trail.

x, agree almost completely but there is huge value in modular combat systems. The C295’s FITS system seems to be just that, capable of processing inputs from any number of sensors without major changes to the software or hardware, so it ought to be transferable to any cabin space with adequate power. You could expand the idea to have a common mission system in Sentry, Sentinel, Sea King ASAC (or replacement), or any other airborne support platform. But a one-size-fits-all solution is a very rare thing – and I agree that there is little likelihood of one emerging in this case.

September 17, 2012 8:59 pm

@ SI

I am just speaking in broad terms. In a former life I was an IT bod; believe me I know about the concept of “modularity”. A system being “transferable” doesn’t mean its modular. Further we mustn’t confuse “scalability” with “modularity” either.

EDIT: That sounds a bit harsh on a second reading. Wasn’t meant that way. My computer appears to have run out of quotes too.

Peter Elliott
September 17, 2012 11:02 pm


I see where you are coming from on this. If the overall scale of the budget for such capabilities is utterly wrong then it won’t really matter if the method of investing that sum is efficient or not.

A counsel of despair really, but I try to remain upbeat. Its all relative and most of the opfor lined up against us seem to have comperable levels of organisational incompetence.

After all no-one looks like conquering us just now so we must be doing something right.

The trick will be to notice when we get to ‘1935’ and then do an emergency programme of re-armament just in time.

(all fingers and toes crossed)

September 18, 2012 1:52 am

Not sure as trade deficits are really that much of an issue. I think too much attention (and money) is being devoted to the notion that we have to rebalance trade.

December 8, 2012 6:21 am

Hi SI, I quite agree wit all the individual pieces in your assessment, but I see it more like a glass half full (and you, as a glass half empty?):
“The future of the RAF’s heavy aircraft fleet is in complete chaos – the Sentry desperately needs a mission systems upgrade, there is no appetite for an MPA any time in the next 5 years, the Sentinel is hanging on having barely escaped the last defence review, the Hercules is being dragged right as the Atlas fails to arrive on time and the C17 and Voyager aircraft fleets are brand new and nigh-on untouchable. Chinooks are in desperately short supply, the Merlins have gone to the CHF and the Pumas are old airframes being given a temporary extension to service. There is no clear plan”
– the Sentry part of this is serious (also project Eagle was cancelled, but that was for an upgrade in capability rather than sustaining it)
– MPA and Sentinel parts would be solved by going with C-295 as per the list in
Dave says:
September 17, 2012 at 09:02; my only disagreement would be with respect to AEW (the airframe would be too small and too short-legged for UK’s requirements as opposed to, say, Israel’s)
– some of the modularity in kit(ELINT/EW and SAR) could stretch across Atlas and C-295 fleets
– C-17 and Voyager fleets are indeed untouchable and there is a real problem in the dove tailing (time wise)the Herc and Atlas fleets. On the other hand, the dove tailing of capability, and the economics to operate it, between C-17 and Atlas would (to me)seem ideal

So, add a fair sprinkling of smaller airframes to it and the fixed-wing part would look OK. So what’s wrong with the helos, either side of 60 of each (Chinook,Merlin,Wildcat and Apache, while recognising that Puma is a stop-gap)?
– letting this mix settle down creates the budgetary space to pick the right utility helicopter (and then ditch the Pumas as well as stop pretending that Wildcat is a UH of any utility)