U.K. Weighs Lift Options as A400 Delays Continue

November 27th, 2008  

Topic: U.K. Weighs Lift Options as A400 Delays Continue

U.K. Weighs Lift Options as A400 Delays Continue

By andrew chuter
Published: 25 Nov 20:47 EST (01:47 GMT

LONDON - Britain's Ministry of Defence may buy additional C-17s or bring forward the introduction of a fleet of Airbus tanker-transports to plug a possible gap in capabilities caused by the delays to the A400 airlifter program.
Giving evidence to the Parliamentary Defence Committee here Nov. 25, Gen. Sir Kevin O'Donoghue, the boss of the MoD's procurement and support arm, admitted that lengthening delays to the Airbus A-400 had caused officials to look at options to provide capability should the "program slide further to the right."

Among the alternatives being considered, he said, were more Boeing C-17s, bringing into service early the Airbus A330 tanker-transports now being built by the AirTanker consortium, and a possible life extension for the existing Lockheed Martin C-130K fleet.
The admission that Britain had been considering its options came as O'Donoghue told the committee that the strategic airbridge ferrying troops and equipment overseas to Afghanistan and Iraq was "fragile".
In a memorandum submitted to the committee last week, the MoD also listed the procurement or leasing of additional C-130s as an option, and leasing or purchasing C-17s were a possibility.
An MoD spokesman said they would "wait and see what the delivery schedule looks like" before deciding whether a gap-filler was required.
The British operate six C-17s and are believed to be considering acquiring another one or two aircraft.
A Boeing spokesman said the company has an "ongoing sustainment partnership with our customer and are constantly in dialogue but we do not disclose any contractual issues or discussions."
Meanwhile, AirTanker, the EADS-led consortium which earlier this year agreed to a 27-year, multibillion pound private finance deal to provide 14 A330 dual use air tankers and transport aircraft to the RAF, said it had opened discussions with the MoD about bringing forward the in-service date..
"We are in early discussions with our customer about the options associated with supplying an accelerated air transport capability to our forces," said an EADS spokesman.
The in service date to replace the old Tristar and VC-10 transports and tankers used by the RAF is currently set at 2011. The A400M, being built by EADS subsidiary Airbus, is already nine months behind the original British delivery schedule and set to get later.
The first aircraft was rolled out midyear but has remained grounded due mainly to problems with the new TP400 turboprop engines being developed by a Safran and Rolls-Royce led "Europrop" consortium.
Those problems have been compounded by several months of delay to the first flight of an engine test bed aircraft, which has seen the TP400 engine mated with a Marshalls Aerospace C-130 aircraft in the United Kingdom.
O'Donoghue said he was confident the engine test flight program onboard the C-130 will get under way soon.
The flight tests have been delayed for months, mainly as a result of problems marrying the large TP400 engine on the wing of the C-130 test aircraft.
Under the present schedule, the RAF would get the first of 25 aircraft to replace early versions of its C-130 fleet starting 2011. Britain's defense procurement boss says he expects the nine-month delay to stretch out further once the impact of the ongoing problems becomes apparent.
He said the key issue was waiting to hear from the airplane builder what the new production schedule will be for the airlifter.
The EADS spokesman said they would be able to give clarity on future A400M milestones once the Europrop issues had been sorted out.
The A400M will eventually replace the C-130Ks, leaving the RAF with an airlift fleet that will also include C-130Js, C-17s and A330s.


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