First A400M Arrives at UK Operating Base


2014-11-28 The UK has added new tankers and is starting the process of adding a new airlifter to its lift fleet, the A400M.

This follows the first operational squadron being set up in France.

According to a piece by Murielle Delaporte based on a visit to the French base:

The French Air Force has activated its first 400M squadron.

And it did not take much time for the new plane to be put to operational use.

The A400M in the past months has been involved in various theater missions for Operations Barkhane in the Sahelo-Saharan zone and Chammal against ISIS.

While a lot of tactical capabilities remain in the process of completion, the French Air Force has been able to start using its recently acquired airlifters for logistic missions only a few months after acquiring them.

A400M at the Orleans Operating Base for the French Air Force, June 2014. Credit: Murielle Delaportes
A400M at the Orleans Operating Base for the French Air Force, June 2014. Credit: Murielle Delaportes

And she added based on interviews at the base:

“A strategic airlifter with tactical capabilities” is the way Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Creuset, who was at the time in charge of setting up the future A400M squadrons, describes this new bird which France has been acquiring at a steady rate since August 2013.

By the end of 2014, the sixth one will be joining the forces with a delivery schedule of fifty aircraft by 2024. 1

The A400M is central to the success of French XXIst Century power projection strategy as most of its current fleet acquired since the 60’s is progressively being retired.

And now the first A40oM has arrived at Brize Norton in the UK.

The arrival of the A400M at its new base in the UK was announced by the UK government as follows in a November 27, 2014 press release:

The first of the UK’s A400M Atlas next-generation military transport aircraft has today been officially unveiled by the MOD at its new home at RAF Brize Norton…..

With a cargo capacity of 32 tons and a hold optimized for carriage of heavy vehicles, helicopters or cargo pallets, the aircraft is capable of supporting a wide range of operational scenarios.

The UK is the third country to operate the aircraft, after France and Turkey and the £2.8 billion program will see a total of 22 aircraft delivered to the RAF in the coming years.

The first Royal Air Force A400M Atlas arrives at RAF Brize Norton [Picture: Steve Lympany, Crown copyright]
The first Royal Air Force A400M Atlas arrives at RAF Brize Norton [Picture: Steve Lympany, Crown copyright]
Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

The arrival of the A400M Atlas will greatly add to our defence capabilities – increasing our ability to move troops and deliver military equipment, aid and medical supplies anywhere in the world quickly and effectively.

It will be a huge contributor to future air mobility in the RAF and is a further example of this Government’s continued investment in the equipment our armed forces need, which is only possible thanks to difficult decisions taken elsewhere as part of our long term economic plan.

I know from my postbag how much local people appreciate the loyalty and endeavour the RAF at Brize display on our behalf and the expansion of RAF Brize Norton is good news for us locally.

Defence Minister Philip Dunne said:

To have the first A400M Atlas here in the UK is a great achievement.

The programme has been at the forefront of modern technology, with its software, wings and aircrew simulator British-manufactured, creating or securing work for around 8,000 people in the UK.

Working with our European partners and industry we have been able to deliver this world class airlift capability to the RAF to support our servicemen and women as they carry out operations around the world.

We now look forward to a steady drumbeat of delivery of this state-of-the-art transport aircraft over the next few years.”

Delivery of the aircraft – which was assembled in Seville, Spain – took place at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

This is where the fleet will be based and where its pilots and ground crew will benefit from state-of-the-art training facilities.

The aircraft will give the RAF the ability to move people and equipment rapidly around the globe for military and humanitarian operations – combining the intercontinental range of the C-17 with the ability to do the tactical rough landings of the C-130 Hercules.

The A400M Atlas will be able to transport the growing family of 30 tonne protected mobility vehicles, including the recently ordered Scout fighting vehicle or Foxhound vehicles.

It is also capable of carrying up to 116 armed forces personnel, including paratroopers.

According to the official RAF website:

RAF Brize Norton is the largest station in the Royal Air Force with approximately 5800 Service Personnel, 1200 contractors and 300 Civilian staff members.

The Station is home to the RAF’s Strategic and Tactical Air Transport (AT) and Air-to-Air Refueling (AAR) forces, as well as host to many lodger and reserve units.

With its mixed fleet of aircraft, RAF Brize Norton provides rapid global mobility in support of UK overseas operations and exercises, as well as AAR support for fast jet aircraft both on operations and in support of UK Homeland Defence.

A press release from Airbus Defense and Space highlighted the arrival of the aircraft to the base in the UK:

The A400M will replace the C-130 in RAF service but, because it can carry approximately twice as much load, or the same load twice as far, fewer aircraft will be required.

Uniquely it is able both to cruise at jet-like speeds and altitudes over intercontinental ranges due to its extremely powerful engines and advanced aerodynamic design, as well as to operate repeatedly from short and unprepared airstrips close to the scene of military action or humanitarian crisis.

At Brize Norton the A400M will operate alongside the RAF’s Airbus Voyager multi-role tanker transport fleet.

The wings of both aircraft are built in the UK at Filton and Broughton respectively. Additionally the Voyager’s engines are produced in the UK by Rolls-Royce, which is also a member of the Europrop International consortium that produces the A400M’s TP400 engines.

First A400M for the RAF in flight.
First A400M for the RAF in flight. Credit: Airbus Defense and Military.

And the RAF website for RAF Brize Norton discusses the future of the A400M at the base:

The Royal Air Force will shortly take delivery of the first Airbus A400M Atlas, which will herald the staged delivery of a further 21 aircraft, in a schedule expected to be complete by 2019.

Although the aircraft will employ its strategic reach and impressive payload capacity by operating initially in the strategic air transport role, Atlas is primarily a tactical airlifter.

Its tactical capabilities will be developed over the next 8 years as it assumes the roles performed by the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules prior to the C-130’s planned retirement from RAF service in 2022.

The Air Force Board Standing Committee has confirmed that No. LXX Squadron will stand up as the first operational Atlas Squadron, to be based at RAF Brize Norton.

The Squadron stood up, in an administrative and engineering support capacity, on 1 October 2014, allowing sufficient time for it to beconfigured and manned appropriately, prior to formally accepting air transporttasking from Summer 2015.

The aircraft will be operated initially by No. XXIV Squadron, the Fixed WingAir Mobility Operational Conversion Unit, which is responsible for conducting training for Atlas aircrew and engineering personnel. Additionally No. 206(R) Squadron will test andevaluate Atlas as part of the aircraft’s capability development process.

 The RAF website explains the contribution and the way ahead for the A400M within their lift force:

The Airbus A400M, which is a collaborative venture involving the governments and industries of six European countries, will support the deployment of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and will give the RAF a tactical and strategic-airlift aircraft capable of supporting all three services and be interoperable with other nations.

The aircraft will be capable of carrying a load of 25 tonnes over a range of 2000nmls at speeds comparable with pure-jet military transports.

It will be capable of operating either at low-level (down to 150ft agl) or at high-level altitudes to 40,000ft, and it will be able to deploy troops and/or equipment between and within theatres of operation either by parachute (up to 108 paratroopers), or by landing on short, unprepared or semi-prepared strips…..

The aircraft will be driven by four Europrop International (EPI) turboprop engines, which will be the most powerful turboprops developed to date in the western world, they will be lighter, easy to maintain and will consume 20% less fuel per mission relative to a similar turbofan engine.

A modern Defensive Aids Suite will be fitted, incorporating radio and infra-red frequency detectors, electronic-countermeasure equipment and chaff/flare dispensers.

The cargo bay of the ATLAS will be controlled by one air loadmaster and can be configured for a number of roles: pure troop carrying, or a mixture of troops and support equipment; palletised cargo or military wheeled and tracked vehicles; two attack helicopters such as the Apache or Puma; or a mixture of light and heavy engineering equipment.

Off-loading equipment or stores after landing can be achieved using conventional ground equipment, the aircraft’s internal load-roller system, by airborne parachute or by gravity extraction from the aircraft’s rear ramp.

In addition to its tactical capability ATLAS will complement the C-17A Globemaster III in providing the UK with a strategic airlift capability when and wherever it is required.