Onboard the A400M Atlas in Support of Operations in Africa


12/13/2014 With the delivery of the first A400M to the RAF and with the standing up of the first French squadron of the A400M, more information will come from the services about their use of the aircraft.

The promise of the aircraft is to provide greater payload, speed and range for delivering men and materiel in support of operations.

The A400M features C-130-like ability to use a wide variety of airfields with the capability to carry oversized loads of the sort that the C-17 currently carries.

The aircraft will be able to deliver equipment and personnel closer to the point of attack than the C-17 with C-17 type loads.

It will not be difficult to see how this aircraft will initially be used.

In the current Mali operation, the French had significant challenges in delivering the capability necessary for their forces.

When the A400M many years ago was first thought of, lift was considered somewhat equivalent to a truck or a greyhound bus.

With the last decade of experience and the revolution in air dropping, the air lifter is an integral part of the kind of expeditionary logistics, which insertion forces clearly need to operate with for 21st century operations.

In reporting from Mali, the French military made it clear to Murielle Delaporte that they were eagerly waiting for the A400M to join the fleet in order to facilitate the kind of operation which Mali represented. As Murielle Delaporte underscored about the Mali operation:

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.

The logistics side of the Mali operation was inextricably intertwined with the combat forces in the combat operation.

The first steps moving in this direction have begun with the French Air Force.

In a piece published on the French Ministry of Defense website on December 8, 2014, Capitaine Karim Djemai provided an update.

The A400M was able in a single mission to support two operations: the first in Barkhane (under way in the Sahel-Saharan Africa since the summer of 2014) and the Sangaris operation (underway since December 2013 in the Central African Republic).

MSN-8 named the City of Toulouse left the Orleans airbase for Africa in the morning of December 4th and stopped over in Italy to deliver 5.5 tons of cargo and 25 Italian soldiers involved in the European operation EUFOR RCA. This task was performed within the framework of the European Air Transport Command pooling of resources of which both France and Italy belong.

Then the plane continued to Africa delivering a total of 50 passengers and about 18 tons of cargo. The load consisted of a mixed load, including technical and medical equipment, aerospace equipment to support the six Rafales stationed in N’Djamena and rotors for helicopters involved in the Sangris operation.

According to the commander of the transport squadron, “The Atlas allows us to carry loads which the CASA, Transall and Hercules could not. We are relying on our experience in operating these other aircraft to learn how to use the new one. We are aligning our profession with the new aircraft.”

As a strategic airlifter, the A400M Atlas has a capacity, speed and range which allows France to operate from its mainland bases to support operations….For example, the A400M can carry four times the load of a C-160 Transall in half the time.

Since the official activation of the A400M squadron in September 2014, the plane has been used for logistical support. Eventually, the aircraft will be able to execute all of the core air transport missions, such as air assault (i.e. delivery of men, materials or paratroopers at the point of attack), air delivery, in-flight refueling and medical evacuations.

Translated from the original French by Second Line of Defense