Airbus Defence and Space has said the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) fleet of A400M Atlas C1 tactical transports are outperforming the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules C4/C5 airlifters they are replacing, increasing the effectiveness of UK Special Forces operations.
In detailed analysis of short-field performance, the company said that the aircraft can land in shorter distances, fly faster and carry more troops and equipment than the outgoing Hercules C4/C5 fleet, which entered operational service in August 1998 (C4) and September 2000 (C5), respectively. In written evidence to the UK government’s Defence Select Committee’s investigation into military aircraft procurement, Airbus said it was confident that the Atlas outperforms the RAF’s C-130J fleet.
Airbus said: “The A400M is certified by the RAF for parachute jumps from the ramp, and static line jumps from one side door. Work is ongoing to certify simultaneous static line jumps from two side doors. Through only one door, the A400M can already deliver 90% of the C-130J’s entire paratroop capacity.
“In addition, in Special Forces scenarios, time is very often of critical importance. The A400M can fly far faster than the C-130J, delivering the UK’s operators and their equipment where they need to be in a shorter time span. The A400M’s capabilities are superior in the critical aspects required by Special Forces: short field performance; speed; load and range.
“Airbus is doing everything possible to give the UK Armed Forces confidence in the superior capabilities of the A400M, and that it is well placed to take on the specialist tasks of the C-130J following its retirement.”
The UK initially planned to acquire 25 A400Ms in total, but due to financial constraints, this initial order was cut to just 22 aircraft. The first British Atlas C1 completed its maiden flight at Airbus’ facility in Seville, Spain, on August 30, 2014, before it was formally handed over to the RAF in November, that year. The type flew its first operational mission in RAF service in March 2015, when an Atlas C1 airlifted cargo from RAF Brize Norton to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
At present, the Atlas C1 is operated by No XXIV (24) Squadron; No 30 Squadron; No LXX (70) Squadron and No 206 Squadron from RAF Brize Norton. It serves as one of the RAF’s primary airlifters and will formally take over the tactical transport role from the Hercules C4/C5 following the latter’s expected retirement this year. It is expected that the UK will place an order for additional A400Ms in the coming years, but exactly how many has yet to be formally confirmed.