The Coming of the A400M: The Mali Hypothesis


2013-05-06 The A400Ms start their initial deliveries this year.

The first recipients will be the French and Turkish forces.

To examine what the impact of this new airlifter will be on operational forces, we have the projected case of how the French might have used the A400M in the current operation in Mali.

As we have argued, the logistics side of the operation was inextricably intertwined in the combat operation.

The first French A400M will be delivered soon. Credit: Airbus Military 

Murielle Delaporte, based on interviews with the French forces in Mali, has emphasized that the French are re-inventing the Caravan concept but in 21st century operations.

They are deploying into combat areas the forces they need but correlated with the support they need. 

They are not creating mobile Walmarts that need to be defended.

And in this effort, various transport means are being used, including convoys (on which she travelled for several days in Mali) as well as airlift of various types.

According to Delaporte:

Air support has been crucial in the areas of more intense engagement. Forward air controllers or FACs were important members of the ground forces.  And air assets –Air Force (fighters), Army (helos) and Navy (Atlantique 2) – have been drawn upon in the operation. 

More generally, and as far as the air component goes, one should also stress that the demands on the old tactical transport aircraft Transalls or the C-160s are very high.

This would be a good time to have the new A400Ms in play. 

French Air Force officers all agree that it will be beneficial in the near future to have a plane which could fly straight from France and have the capability to land on the short, tough airfields characteristic of the Mali operation.

To gain a sense of how the A400M would be used in the future with the Mali operation in mind, Airbus Military’s Damien Allard, the Market Development Manager for the A400M, has put together a briefing, which he recently presented a press conference.

At the heart of the approach is the capability of the aircraft to carry C-17 type loads with C-130 type agility.

The A400m combines an ability to carry outsize and heavy loads that cannot fit into current tactical airlifters and be able to deliver those loads on soft, short, and austere areas where current strategic airlifter cans not.  According to Airbus Military, the plane can deliver up to a 55,000-pound or 25 ton payload onto as short an airfield as a 750 meter or 2500 foot low grade airstrip.

The range of the aircraft will allow it to fly directly from France to do the resupply effort and land directly onto remote airfields, creating a very different type of transit link, one between the supply “warehouse” and the engaged force.

The key is to deliver equipment to the point of need for the supply points, not necessarily located in the combat zone or country.  This allows reduction of transit time, and enhanced security of supply.

At the heart of the evolving concepts of expeditionary logistics is the concept of providing support integrated within combat forces, without having to stockpile equipment to support “forward” deployed forces.

The notion of the “front” and “rear” is eroded by the expeditionary logistics concept.

The A400M fits right into this concept.

The A400 M will bring the capability to the French forces of delivering heavy and outsize loads directly from France or from other airfields in the region to unpaved airstrips in Northern Mali such Tombouctou, Gao, or Tessalit.

According to Damien Allard: “The A400M can airlift all the equipment in use for ‘Operation Serval,’ including those which were either sealifted through slow Ro-Ro ships or airlifted through costly strategic airlifters.”

For some earlier pieces which have examined the evolution of expeditionary logistics see the following:

For a companion piece see the following: