RAF A400M airlifters prepped for tactical missions

AVALON, Australia  – The U.K.’s Royal Air Force is now expanding its Airbus A400M Atlas roles into the tactical environment, following recent upgrades to the heavy airlifters capabilities.

Speaking at the 2017 Australian International Air Show at Avalon Wednesday, Officer Commanding of the RAF’s first operational A400M unit, Wing Commander Simon Boyle, said that after months of using the aircraft in the strategic transport role, operations are now increasingly moving into the tactical arena.

Boyle described the A400Ms entry into service as “challenging,” but he said that the aircraft is at the heart of the United Kingdom’s air mobility capability.

“The entry into service of any complex project is a challenge. It has been difficult and 2016 has been a challenging year,” he said. “But I definitely see a positive trajectory and I say that as an operator of the aircraft.”

The RAF has taken delivery of 14 of the 22 A400Ms on order and the final aircraft is due to be delivered in late 2018 or early 2019. The service has been operating the aircraft extensively in the strategic airlift role, while it awaited the software upgrades and certification of some of the tactical roles.

One of the upgraded aircraft is on display at Avalon, after flying to the show via the US and New Zealand. Wing Commander Boyle described the aircraft’s capability as ‘theatre entry’ standard, which includes the latest mission software, cockpit armour, fuel tank inerting systems and Large Aircraft Infra Red Counter Measures (LAIRCM).

“The indications are that the aircraft will perform very well in the tactical role, particularly on unprepared runways. We are starting to understand how good the aircraft could be in the tactical environment,” he said.

Following its presence during the trade days at the show, the aircraft will visit several countries in south-east Asia – including Indonesia, which has indicated interest in purchasing a number of A400Ms, before returning to the U.K. via the Middle East.

“It really feels like we are getting the kind of momentum that we would like to see. In spite of the challenges we can safely say that the A400M has global reach and one of the purposes of this visit is to stretch the aircraft’s legs,” Boyle said.

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