Visits to the Seville headquarters of Airbus Defence & Space (Airbus DS) have often reflected stormy prospects for the company’s large-capacity A400M Atlas transport, which has suffered cost increases, delivery delays, technical issues, and order losses.
One media briefing in particular had been scheduled for May 2015, but by a cruel twist of fate, had to be cancelled at the last moment due to the fatal crash of a brand new Atlas aircraft on its first flight after emerging from the assembly line.
The cause of the crash, as the aircraft climbed out after lift-off, was soon tracked down (it involved the engine electronic control unit) and was quickly rectified, and the rest of the year was dedicated to recovering from the period when final assembly was halted. This was particularly problematic as the monthly production flow had been gearing up before the crash incident. Now, every effort is being made to get the program back on schedule, with Atlas deliveries steadily building up again.
A Test Program for A400M
The flight test program for the A400M Atlas was to form a major part of the update briefing at Seville. The A400M flying totals have risen to 7903 hours on 2901 flights. Particular achievements during 2015 included many important way points: the first flight refueling receiver trials from an A330 MRTT, DASS (defense aid subsystem) and RWR (radar warning receiver) self-defense tests, paratroop deployment trials, and offrunway surface tests.
Associated with low-level flights was certification of an enhanced vision system with night vision goggles (NVGs). Certification of low-level free-flight down to 150 ft was achieved in late 2014, with height down to 500 ft using NVGs. Infrared sensors and flare systems were also tested under many different conditions and included full flare jettison.
Various dynamic air drop tests have taken place with live jumps, which have unfortunately confirmed that there are issues involved in using the two rear side doors for troop air drops. Turbulence from the engines causes cross-over problems that can bring departing paratroopers into contact with each other after exit. A test aircraft is being fitted with a spoiler that it is hoped may solve the problem, but tests will continue into 2016 using full-size representative dummy troopers.
Past tests in September and October 2015 included landings and takeoffs from grass runways and soil surfaces. The third stage in these tactical op tests involved further operations from sand surfaces.
The landing gear of the A400M incorporates the first certification of technology based on micro-strain measurement to indicate to the pilots that the gear has functioned correctly and wheels are on the ground or in flight. The traditional system based on proximity sensors has been changed by a calibrated pin (strain measurement) design. Due to the aircraft’s landing gear configuration this new system has significantly improved the landing run performances on low friction surfaces.
Expanding Product Lines
Airbus DS Chief Salesman Antonio Rodriguez Barberan recently provided an overview of the military product line, which extends beyond the main Seville products—the A400M and C295 and CN235 transports—to Eurofighter, the A330 MRTT, UAV developments, and extensive military upgrade and sustainment support services.
He said the company’s aim is to be present in most military market segments and to be number one or two in each segment. This may seem a tall order, but Airbus DS is apparently well on its way to achieving this with worldwide military products that include 1800 aircraft sold to 70 countries, with 145 operators and over 5 million flight hours accumulated. An ever-growing global footprint is making the products more supportable.
Over the past year or so, Barberan said the A00M has become operational with five air forces (France, U.K., Germany, Turkey, and Spain) and presentations have been made to nine more potential customers, with “serious negotiations underway.” The medium-size military transport aircraft achieved 28 orders in 2014, and 15 more were added in 2015. Airbus expects to maintain its 75% market share in this category long term.
In addition to the primary transport role of the C295 and CN235, these types are being continuously developed to cover other tasks including search & rescue, maritime surveillance, marine pollution control, anti-submarine and surface warfare, and aerial photography. The combined C295 and CN235 market penetration is around 60%. The biggest regional market is Asia Pacific with 140 sales, while Africa and the Middle East have ordered 130 aircraft.
The new C295W features enhanced engine performance and has winglets. These improvements give an 8% increase in range (out to 2300 nmi with a 4-ton load). The winglets provide an aerodynamic gain that translates into a 5.5% fuel advantage on a typical mission. The engine mode upgrade also allows a larger payload from hot and high airfields.
Efforts to further expand applications for this platform have included modifications to allow a fire-fighting role and a version for Special Forces use as a transport or a fire-support gunship. The C295’s capacious cabin allows room for extensive mission systems and displays so that the aircraft can act as a signals intelligence or ground surveillance platform, with specialist sensors and multiple target tracking radar, with communications intercept and jamming equipment.
Modifications to give the C295 more weapons capability in the Maritime Patrol (MPA) and anti-submarine (ASW) roles is underway so that air-launched homing torpedoes and air-to surface missiles can be carried. The C295 and CN235 can both be given a cost-effective MPA or SAR role as they feature high maneuverability at low levels above the sea surface, combined with an endurance of up to 11 hours. The U.S. Coast Guard uses a large fleet of CN235s for law enforcement, border patrols, and para-rescue operations. Special large size bubble windows give excellent visual coverage for crew members, while electro-optical video cameras, including IR, allow all-weather and night operations.
Palletized ISR mission systems can be provided for the C295 MPA/ASW so that the aircraft can be used for transport duties when not required for ISR or MPA duties. If required to provide electronic surveillance, onboard ELINT/ COMINT analysis or electronic countermeasures can also be supplied in a very compact package.
Israel’s ELTA has supplied a fourthgeneration AESA radar, which has been trialed atop a C295 in an aerodynamic rotating dome for the detection of multiple small and fast targets, giving 360° coverage. For the ground surveillance task, the C295 can carry high-resolution SAR/GMTI radar arrays and an EO/IR target designation turret, ESM, ELINT, and COMINT. It would seem that Airbus is keen to exploit every possible combination of ISR and EW mission roles that can be carried aboard its C295 and CN235 aircraft.
It’s been suggested that close air support would be an ideal role for the C295, which could deploy parachutists and supplies and also carry underwing weapons and stores. However, the company’s future planning is already looking beyond the C295 platform.
Airbus DS recently shared an image of an A330 fitted with a fuselagemounted rotating radome, which could potentially become a replacement for the current generation of Boeing E-3D AWACs that are in widespread use around the world, but many of which are over 40 years old.
Such an A330 AEW&C platform would offer plenty of volume for electronic equipment, environmental control, electrical generation and distribution systems, crew rest areas, and additional operational ISR/EW tasking potential, with extremely long range and/or endurance on station, and high transit speed. But the future vision for Airbus DS doesn’t end there, as it has stated that it was looking at a military configured A320 platform (which could presumably also be sized as an A319 or A321, depending on customer need), which could have a ground surveillance, EW, or MPA role, and could become a future European rival to Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon.
The A330-based Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) has continued attracting new customers, including two for Qatar, and three for a joint NATO MRTT group. France is to buy twelve, and South Korea has ordered four. India has announced its selection of the type. To date there are now 26 A330 MRTTs in service.
Antonio Caramazana, head of the MRTT program, said that the A330 tanker transport had been very active on military operations. Most of these operations have involved air-to-air refueling missions, but the aircraft have also been used, particularly by the RAF, for overseas deployments carrying up to 200 troops, and for supporting combat aircraft deployments carrying equipment and ground personnel.
A refueling boom capability now allows full use of the Airbus-developed control-by-wire boom to refuel USAF combat aircraft such as the F-15 and F-16, as well as larger types such as other MRTTs and Boeing Wedgetails (737-based AEW&Cs). The MRTT has also been cleared to refuel combat fighters using the FRU drogue and probe method including the Typhoon, Tornado, Mirage, Rafale, F-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, and AV-8B Harrier.
Night refueling can now be undertaken on all these types and clearance trials were successfully undertaken at Edwards AFB and Patuxant River for additional U.S. types including the EA-6B, A-10, and B-1B. This included the first MRTT wet boom refueling of the F-35A by RAAF MRTTs. In the UK, expansion of the FRU refueling functionality included clearance of refueling trials with two different types of C-130Js, the E-3D Sentry, and A400Ms.
A series of enhancements is now being applied to new MRTT deliveries. The initial customers will be Singapore, France, and Korea for delivery from 2018. This performance improvement package has been triggered by new increased weight capability resulting from the standard upgrade of the basic A330, which has structural and aerodynamic improvements.
Inside the aircraft, there will also be new computer displays associated with an avionics upgrade. Adjustments to the military systems fitted in the MRTT include improvements to the industrialization process with more standardization of electrical and mechanical solutions. The MRTT has now settled down to being a very capable and mature military air asset, offering ample cabin space and fuel off-load capacity, endurance, and a more modern airframe.
Eurofighter continues to offer upgraded Typhoon combat aircraft with AESA radar and other improvements. The latest customer to select the fighter is Kuwait, which is expected to buy 28. Work continues on a proposal for a new joint European MALE UAV definition phase. Other upgrade programs include improved Tornados for Saudi Arabia and refurbished P-3s for the German Navy.
Joey Borkenstein, Senior Advisor Air Combat Operations, Eurofighter, Airbus DS, says a steady program of upgrades continues to roll forward, though keeping the momentum going has not been an easy task as some customers have been slower to respond as they have not been so actively engaged in combat operations as others, who have long recognized the need to adopt progressively better avionics, radar, and weapons systems.
However, the first four upgrade packages are being implemented over the next five years, with others following out to at least 2030, ensuring the Typhoon has a long operational future. One of the most immediate upgrades is the clearance of new missiles for the RAF. The first of these will be the Storm Shadow/Taurus, which is a long-range stand-off weapon for use against welldefended key targets.
The Storm Shadow is battle-proven aboard Tornado and combines low observability with high precision. It is to be delivered for service on Typhoon by 2017. The MBDA Meteor is intended as an air dominance long range air-to-air missile with a two way data-link and an unprecedented “No Escape Zone.” This is also due to be cleared over the next year. The next enhancements cover the carriage of the latest Paveway IV precision bombs. Available in 500- and 1000-lb versions, the weapon has laser guidance and GPS/INS guidance, and Typhoon can be configured to carry up to six while retaining its full air defense role. The third new missile, being pushed as a priority by the U.K. is the clearance for Brimstone air-tosurface attack missiles.
The improved Brimstone II has been developed from the standard Brimstone, which has a proven combat record over Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and features a dual-mode high accuracy seeker with a very good performance against small moving targets. It has all-weather day or night capability and is very compact so up to 12 can be carried on four triple launch mountings, without compromising AAR missile capability.
The most anxiously awaited upgrade remains the adoption for Typhoon of the Captor-E AESA radar from Selex. This features the biggest “field of regard” for any AESA of its type, thanks to its mounting on a moveable, rather than a fixed, plate. This wide angle capability allows even more multiple targets to be identified, tracked, and addressed, with multiple uses, from air-to-air interception to sea search and surface strike. It has a high resistance to jamming and can operate with various active and passive detection options. Other developments include an upgraded defensive aids suite with a more powerful jamming capability and passive geolocation.
Airbus DS is hoping that its expanded product portfolio will give the company a stronger global presence in military markets, complementing its success in civil markets. Airbus has had its fair share of A400M challenges to date, but now that Boeing has delivered its final C-17 military transport aircraft, bringing an end to the famous Long Beach aircraft production line, customers requiring a larger military air transporter than the C-130J Hercules, will only have the Airbus A400M Atlas available from Western manufacturers. This may indeed ensure that it will have a long production future ahead of it.