Programme for A400M military transport plane
The aim of the A400M military transport plane is to respond to the operational need for strategic projection and for a tactical manoeuvring capability. It must guarantee the replacement of the Transall – a pledge was made in 2005 to decommission the first generation of these aircraft – and provide a supplementary air refuelling capability.
The programme is being jointly conducted by seven States, which have ordered a total of 180 planes: France (50 planes), Germany (60 planes), Spain (27 planes), the UK (25 planes), Turkey (10 planes) and Belgium (eight planes, including one for Luxembourg).
The manufacturer charged with undertaking the programme is Airbus Military Sociedad Limitada (Airbus Military SL), whose shareholders are Airbus, EADS-CASA, the Turkish company Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and the Belgian company Flabel.
The participating States gave the Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’Armement (OCCAR) (1) responsibility for running the programme. The contract between OCCAR and Airbus Military SL, which came into force on 31 May 2003, envisaged the A400M’s first flight in January 2008 and the first delivery to France in October 2009. The contract includes clauses aimed at giving the lead manufacturer responsibility and greater freedom to optimize the programme and reduce its costs and timescale. Likewise, the opportunities for supervision by the participating States, whether directly or through OCCAR, are more limited than in other arms programmes. In particular, monitoring of the programme’s intermediate completion deadlines (prior to the delivery of each plane) consists mainly of checking whether Airbus Military SL is achieving progress milestones in relation to the projected timescale. According to the relevant clauses in the contract, responsibility for keeping to the programme’s timescale lies with Airbus Military SL, the lead manufacturer. However, the A400M programme has proven to be a greater challenge than imagined. The programme has strayed significantly from what was initially planned.
To confirm their commitment to the programme, the States requested assurances of the manufacturer’s ability to achieve the programme’s objectives with an acceptable level of risk. On France’s initiative, the seven participating States set up a group of experts, who conducted an in-depth analysis of the programme and ensured greater supervision of the programme by Airbus Military SL. This group of experts reached the conclusion that the A400M is still a feasible programme.
The States and the manufacturer also explored what commercial, technological and managerial framework would meet the conditions for any possible negotiation. Following that work, France organized a meeting of defence ministers on 24 July 2009, during which the seven participating countries confirmed their commitment to the programme and decided to launch a new phase of negotiation with the manufacturer aimed at establishing the contractual conditions for continuing the programme. The negotiations subsequently led, at the beginning of March 2010, to a high-level agreement on the financial conditions for continuing the programme. A more detailed document was also drawn up to formalize all the changes to be made to the contract. That document ratifies, among other things, the new timetable for delivery of the planes, beginning in March 2013 for France. It also envisages that Airbus Military SL, as lead manufacturer, should retain responsibility for the whole programme. In parallel, the manufacturer’s management of the programme must be reorganized and improved. On the basis of this high-level agreement and detailed document, a codicil to the contract will shortly be concluded to which the lead manufacturer and the States will make a formal commitment. Decisions on the A400M programme will be taken jointly, continuing the very wide-ranging cooperation established with all the partner countries.
To compensate for the delay to the initial timetable for bringing the A400M into service, the Ministry for Defence and Veterans has planned various measures. For tactical transport, the use of certain Transall C160s will be extended between 2015 and 2018, and notification was given in March 2010 of the procurement of eight smaller, CASA CN-235-type transport planes. For strategic transport the armed forces will – depending on their needs – make use of rentals, particularly in relation to the SALIS contract, which will be extended beyond 2010. France could also have recourse to rental contracts for NATO C17s. The financial needs of the A400M programme and the costs of palliative measures will not exceed the overall package envisaged in the Military Estimates Act for 2009-2014. The additional financial burden, which will extend beyond 2020, will be spread out over several years, according to the new aircraft deliveries timetable.
In any case, the A400M’s first flight took place on 11 December 2009, reinforcing this key long-term programme for Europe’s industry and armed forces. Moreover, as no equivalent plane currently exists on the international market, or will in the next decade, the A400M is in a very promising position in terms of export success./.
(1) Arms cooperation body established in 1996 by France, Germany, Italy and the UK.