2013-06-11 In some ways, the Trade Media Brief event hosted by Airbus Military (AM), this year in Seville Spain, is a pre-Paris Air Show event.
This year, the A400M is a key feature for AM given its first delivery to the French Air Force with a delivery later this year to Turkey.
We have published a number of pieces generated by presentations and discussions with journalists at the event, and these pieces provide an overview not just of the AM offerings but insights into 21st century air systems.
The first A400Ms are being delivered this year to the French and Turkish forces.
Clearly, the European forces need an upsurge in lift capabilities.
The program has been contracted between a European agency called the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation or OCCAR and Airbus Military, which guarantees a stable, buy of the aircraft. Beyond the core buyers – the UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Spain, Luxembourg, and Belgium), the first export customer is Malaysia. What this means is that the signers of the OCCAR contract are obligated to buy the core purchases even if they decide to reduce the number in their own inventory from the initial order.
Contract stability among multinational partners in the program is a crucial element of launching such a program in challenging financial times.
The A400M is clearly a 21st century aircraft and part of the multi-mission revolution generated by the small number of multinational programs, which are re-baslining 21st century capabilities. Whether it is the A400M or the F-35, each platform is part of a fleet and is designed to operate as such.
Some of the characteristics of such a fleet are building in logistics from the ground up.
Common serial numbers or UIDs are built in. These common markings enable a global logistics management effort. The prime contractor manages the global supply chain to build the aircraft and manages the data on parts performance to ensure improvements in the supply chain as operational experience is gained with the aircraft.
Multi-national training is a core focus of the A400M and the F-35, and this common training facilities cross-fertilization of ideas of how to use a common fleet. There is an opportunity to apply the user group concepts pioneered by programs such as the Rover or the C-130 and to apply the inputs from user groups to drive further development of these 21st century programs rather than developing the program based on the desires of procurement agencies or engineers.
The A330MRTT tanker is another key contributor to a 21st century approach to fleet operations. The plane is built on the foundation of the very successful A330 commercial aircraft, which is used widely and globally. When the A330MRTT was built, Airbus Military went back and redesigned the plane around new computer based designed tools and a new and even more robust plane emerged crafted for the tanking mission.
The capacity of the plane to be refueled itself – notably enhanced in some variants of the aircraft – can reinforce an important air base in the sky quality to a fleet of A330MRTTs.
In an earlier piece, we wrote about the role of such a tanker for the Gulf Cooperation Council.
With the fuel carried in the wings, the large deck of the A330 can be used to host a variety of air support capabilities: routers, sensors, communication nodes, etc.
Such a configuration along with the fuel re-supply capabilities of the A330 tanker makes this a flying air operational support asset.
If the model selected is similar to the model downselected initially by the USAF, it is refuelable in flight.
With the space available in the aircraft – again because of the fact that the fuel for refueling is carried in the wings – a crew rest area can be provided.
This means that the air tankers can stay aloft for a significant period of time as the refuelers are themselves refueled.
This in turn means that the refueling aircraft as a fleet can have a strategic impact.
Once the planes are airborne and they have access to refuelers for their own operational autonomy, the fleet can tank a variety of national or coalition partners operating from dispersed or diverse airfields.
And the discretion possible airborne can allow nations to tank a variety of coalition partners, some of whom might not be favorite candidates if seen on the ground.
Nowhere is this more important than in areas with very constricted geography.
And the GCC states operate with very little strategic depth nation by nation.
Impact on Operations
Ian Elliott, a retired RAF Air Commodore and now with Airbus Military tied to the two planes together in his presentation on how these planes might be used in the future. Elliott laid out the case of how the evolution of 21st century operations was facilitated by the new air systems being introduced by Airbus Military.
The first case was that of the Libyan operation. Here Elliott argued that in many ways, the Libyan operation was a tanker-supported operation.
Nine nations provided tankers; 16 nations provided 27 types of aircraft receiving fuel or 260 aircraft in total. This meant that of the 26,500 sorties flown during the eight-month campaign, 25% were tanker missions.
Elliott then addressed the question of how this can be done more effectively. If the tankers could have operated further forward, then the operational tempo is improved and more efficient use of the tankers themselves results. The legacy tankers are simply too old and their flight time is much lower than needed because of their age. And legacy tankers tend not to be multi-point tankers and when you have a coalition using different types of aircraft, such capability matters.
The old tankers out there with single hoses were of limited utility and we wanted reliable and available tankers. They were also taking up rack space in the Mediterranean area of operation.
Elliott argued that the size of the A330MRTT and its ability to provide for multi-point tanking would have led to a significant enhancement of not only tanker efficiencies but overall combat efficiency and effectiveness.
The second case was a what if scenario with regard to the A400M and its possible use in the Mali operation.
Elliott argued that the A400M could have carried all of the core equipment used by the French, and in fewer loads and to areas closer to the operation.
This would lead to greater efficiency in the operation and would enhance the speed of operations, and combat speed is a crucial quality for any operation, particularly one like this.
The troops who were operating in the northern part of Mali and indeed still are have vital requirement for food and water. Right now, what we’re trying to solve is doing all return trips per day to deliver water to the most northern-based troops in this operation. You take an A400, it’ll take two days worth of water in one trip because it can carry the weight; it can carry the mass.
The ability of the A400M to carry C-17 type loads to the point of attack, as does the C-130 will be a significant game changer.
The A400M could have airlifted heavy and outsize loads directly to the point of need.
Training and Services
Other aspects were discussed during the briefings, including the question of training as well as the provision of services. With regard to training, Ian Burrett laid out the approach to multi-national training being pursued by the A400M and A330MRTT programs. In the brief, Burrett discussed the ramp up of A400M training to prepare for the entry into service.
In addition to the multinational center in Seville centers were being finished in France to support their aircraft and being built in the United Kingdom, with Germany preparing the path for their own center as well.
Clearly, the goal is to shape a sharing arrangement among the training centers to shape improvements in the training process over time, and to integrate operational experience into the training process.
In response to a question, Burrett highlighted that the clear objective was to have a symbiotic process among the centers to ensure that best practices would be highlighted for all the multinational participants in the program.
Another aspect of the multinational character of the program can be seen in the development of the core tools being used in the training process. The training is built to shape a core team for a common set or fleet of aircraft.
Next, the services presentation, in effect, highlighted the changing nature of a prime contractor and its role in providing services to core customers. In the 21st century, a defense prime contractor delivers the final product. But increasingly, he does so through managing a supply chain, which is rooted in commercial and military supplies.
These blended products feed into the company responsible for final delivery of a product to a customer, and these products evolve over time as data is obtained to determine mean failure rate of the parts or other operational indicators of success.
The manufacturer managing the Final Assembly Line or FAL obviously needs access to the information on the performance of the final product in operational conditions and detailed information on the parts performance. This way the products can be improved so that the final product, in turn, is produced of high quality or fidelity over time.
This is why the prime contractors are so involved in the logistics side of the supply chain and not just on the manufacturing side. This is also why systems like performance-based logistics have been adopted, whereby the OEM as prime contractor is involved in delivering performance guarantees for the product and involved in managing the supply chain from production through logistics support.
What remains to be determined on a case-by-case basis is the relationship between the Ministry of Defense, the service using the product, the military force operating the product and the role of the prime contractor over time in the logistics system.
No one MOD or service follows exactly the same pattern.
But the broad challenge is to accept a key role of the prime contractor but to determine the best or optimal relationship between the services, and the prime contractor and companies along the supply chain in determining the most effective solution for that nation and its military services.
Flying the A400M
Finally, the journalists experienced their first flight on the A400M, which really rounded out the time at the TM13 event. The experience was well summarized by Francis Tusa, the editor of the well-respected Defence Analysis.
Question: What were your impressions of the plane? What surprised you the most or what pleased you the most?
Tusa: I suppose having covered this aircraft since the early days in the 1990s, at one level just seeing it flying, being inside the aircraft. The lack of noise was the most noticeable, if you can notice something that isn’t there.
And compared to Hercules, C-17, and other aircraft, the fact you can have a conversation without having to shout. This may not be necessarily a massive military advantage. It sure is if you’re a passenger since it’s a very, very pleasant experience.
Also, the seats compared to the standard bucket seats in a Hercules equivalent are far more comfortable.
Question: There is an advantage obviously for paratroopers planning to jump along with their equipment. But what was your sense of the take off and the smoothness of the flight?
Tusa: I didn’t actually hear the engine start up. I couldn’t feel the aircraft noticeably shake as the different propellers started.
So I was actually surprised when the aircraft started pulling away.
And then there was an incredibly rapid take off, and acceleration. Certainly, there was then a very, very stable performance in the air, so impressive.
Then, with an ability to wander around the cargo hold, you’re reminded that it is a very big open area, which is precisely what you need in this type of aircraft.
You certainly got the impression that with full clearance the aircraft is going to be taking off with loads on very, very short fields which is what it is designed for.
But then, how often do aircraft come into service really not quite managing to do what they were meant to do in the first place?
There was a significant degree of confidence that this aircraft is going to be delivering a lot of what it was contractually designed for based on what we experienced.
For the stories posted on Second Line of Defense concerning TM13 see the following: