The A400M Debuts at Mobility Guardian 2017: The Premier USAF Global Reach Exercise


2017-08-12 Mobility Guardian is the USAF’s premier global power projection or global reach exercise.

According to an article published by Force Tech. Sgt. Jodi Martinez375th Air Mobility Wing:

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., Aug. 1, 2017 — Nearly 30 partner nations are participating alongside U.S. counterparts during Air Mobility Command‘s Mobility Guardian exercise, which kicked off across Washington state yesterday and concludes Aug. 12. 

The exercise aims to enhance the U.S. military’s global response force by integrating in complex, realistic mobility training with partner nations, AMC officials said.

Fully-integrated events during the exercise will allow for strategic interoperability in support of real-world operations, said Air Force Maj. Thomas Rich, joint task force director of operations for Mobility Guardian. 

“We’re pushing the tactical edge,” Rich said. “We’re putting aircraft from different nations close together in a tight airspace in a dynamic threat environment. There’s a little bit of inherent risk in that, but that’s what we want to do here so that everybody is ready when we do it for real.” 

More than 650 international military personnel and 3,000 U.S. military service members will focus on AMC’s four core competencies — airlift, air refueling, aeromedical evacuation and air mobility support — said Air Force Col. Clinton Zumbrunnen, the exercise’s international observer mission commander.

Zumbrunnen said he hopes Mobility Guardian, which is planned to be held biennially, will attract additional allies to attend and will encourage observers to return as participants in the future. 

Col. Jose Antonio Morales, training commander for the Brazilian air force’s 5th Wing, echoed this hope for his own country. “We are trying to arrange a lot of new exercises and interchanges between our countries,” he said. “We are all so proud to represent our country and our air force and participate in this very important exercise.” 


Largest AMC Exercise: Mobility Guardian 2017 from on Vimeo.

The Royal Air Force and the French Air Force brought their A400Ms for the first time to this core exercise.

According to a story by Air Force Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs and published August 05, 2017:

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.– Many Mobility airframes from 11 international countries are attending Mobility Guardian, including the Royal Air Force’s A400M Atlas as it makes its debut in a large-scale exercise.

The tactical airlifter is comparable to the C-130 Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster III.

Capable of all major components of airlift, including transport, airdrops and aeromedical evacuation, it will eventually replace the C-130 for the RAF, leaving only a small fleet of the older aircraft in service.

Although the A400 has operated in exercises previously, Mobility Guardian is the largest and most diverse, which gives the aircraft a chance to shine.

“Exercise Mobility Guardian 2017 is a real opportunity for us,” said Wing Commander Ed Horne, Number 70 Squadron commanding officer, RAF Brize Norton, U.K.

“It’s the first time we’ve deployed the aircraft on an exercise like this.

“The aircraft arrived in service with the Royal Air Force in 2014, so we’re still preparing the aircraft for operations overseas. This is really an excellent opportunity for us to operate with our coalition partners.

“[Mobility Guardian] will demonstrate to our partners that the A400M Atlas is a really capable platform,” he added. “It’s also of benefit to me and my guys to be meeting people from all over the world that we might well be operating with in a real-world scenario in the future.”

While the aircraft is at Mobility Guardian, the RAF’s international partners, including the United States, are able to work with the aircraft for the first time and learn how it can be used as an asset to the Mobility mission.

“With the aircraft being new to them, it’s also new to us,” said Maj. Andrew Rich, Mobility Guardian Joint Task Force director of operations. “We’d like to learn about it and how we can incorporate it into how we fight. We’re exploring the interoperability pieces of how our equipment fits on their aircraft and how their equipment fits on ours. Being interoperable gives us a chance to be more flexible when we go downrange.”

A400M at Mobility Guardian 2017 from on Vimeo.

The A400 is slotted for nine missions during Mobility Guardian, providing the opportunity to learn more about the aircraft and to help partnerships flourish.

“Coalition partners are very important to us,” said Rich. “We rely on them, and they rely on us. We don’t go into any conflict without them. We trust them, and we love having them here. We can’t wait to bring them back next time.”

According to a story by Charlsy Panzio published on August 2, 2017 by Military Times:

The British Royal Air Force brought its new Airbus A400M plane, the first time it has participated in an exercise of this scale. A number of countries are using the four-engine, turboprop tactical airlifter to replace older aircraft, such as the somewhat smaller C-130 Hercules.

Operated by two pilots and a weapons systems operator, the aircraft has the ability to carry a 25-ton payload more than 2,300 miles to remote airfields, or by landing on short, semi-prepared strips.

“They wanted to integrate the A400 into a large exercise,” ZumBrunnen said. “They also brought an aeromedical evacuation team. From a U.S. perspective, we’re happy to see other countries work on their AE skills.”

The French air force also brought its A400M, which will participate in airdrop missions during the exercise.

“We were really interested in trying to be as integrated as possible in airdrops because that is a major capability,” said French Maj. Eric Brunet, who was in charge of preparing the French team for Mobility Guardian.

Brunet said he and his airmen want to compare the way they use their aircraft to how other countries use theirs to make sure their way is as efficient as possible.

“Being involved in a realistic situation is a great opportunity to do that,” he told Air Force Times the day before the training missions began.

Finally, according to a story published by the RAF on August 10, 2017, an RAF aeromedical evacuation team deployed with the A400M to the exercise.

A Royal Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation team has deployed on exercise with A400M Atlas for the first time.

The medics from Tactical Medical Wing (TMW) and three RAF Reserve squadrons are in the US to participate in Mobility Guardian, the largest exercise of its type involving over 50 transport and air-refuelling aircraft, paratroopers, Force Protection and Aeromed personnel.

Flight Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald, a Flight Commander on TMW based at RAF Brize Norton, explained the aim of the exercise. He said: “The focus for the aeromedical part of this exercise is to simulate the evacuation of up to 300 hospital patients in a humanitarian effort from a displaced area in a war torn environment.

“We’re doing that by working closely with other aeromedical teams from other countries. We’re mixing those teams to understand what qualifications, capabilities and skill sets are required in order to function on various aircraft from other countries and that combination of doctor, nurse and medical teams.”

The scale of the exercise has enabled a medical evacuation process which replicates closely what the RAF personnel have experienced previously on coalition operations. Two separate patient preparation areas have been established over 350 miles apart. The RAF teams fly out to the humanitarian area to evacuate patients originating from a US Army Role 2 Hospital.

“We receive hand over of those casualties and evacuate them back” explained Flt Lt Fitzgerald. “We sometimes simulate an intra-theatre transfer which involves a 40 minute flight, or when we have a C-CAST on board, which is the critical care aspect of our aeromedical team, we simulate the 3-4 hour evacuation as if we were for example returning patients to Birmingham.”

The UK Aeromedical Team on the exercise have brought Flight Nurses who are emergency qualified, including four Reservists from three different squadrons.

The A400M, which can carry up to 66 stretcher patients, was recently used for the first time on a real aeromed mission for operational reasons. Mobility Guardian is however the first time it has been used on exercise in the role.

Flt Lt Fitzgerald: “All the personnel we have brought with us have never flown A400 previously so this is new for us. It’s a new capability, we can carry up to 66 stretchers on board the A400 which is our aircraft for the future.”

Editor: Wg Cdr Dylan Eklund

© MOD Crown Copyright 2017

Editor’s Note: Last year, we published an update on the A400M in an interview with two senior leaders of Airbus Defence and Space during a visit to Madrid, Spain.

2016-11-22 By Robbin Laird

After my visit to the Albacete Air Base in Spain, I spent time in Madrid with Airbus Defence and Space.

During my time in Madrid, I was able to conduct two interviews, the first with the head of the tanker program, namely, Antonio Caramazana, and the second with Fernando Alonso, head of Military Aircraft and with the chief engineer of the A-400M, Lionel Rouby.

The A400M has been delivered to several air forces and will become a key part of their fleets for operations over the next 50 years.

Currently, the program is working through engine modifications, which has fixed a known problem with the gear boxes.

During a visit to the Bricy air base, the squadron leadership provided insights with regard to the French approach to the A400M and the squadron leader highlighted the importance in his view of the inherent upgradeability of the aircraft associated with its software systems as well as the promise of digital maintenance for shaping a new approach to fleet management.

In that interview, Lt. Col. Paillard highlighted the importance of keeping the aircraft common among the A400M users to get the maximum impact from the aircraft operating as a fleet.

“We do not want to end up like the Transall which was a common French and German aircraft but at the end became completely different aircraft.”

A key potential for leveraging commonality is derived from the digital nature of the aircraft.

The sensors onboard the aircraft and the various software upgradeable systems provide an inherent potential for the A400M to provide for inherent upgradeability and serviceability across the fleet.

Lt Col. Paillard seen in an A400M cockpit at Bricy. Credit: Second Line of Defense
Lt Col. Paillard seen in an A400M cockpit at Bricy. Credit: Second Line of Defense

Put in other terms, the digital nature of the aircraft is part of every A400M which enters the combat fleet and can provide a significant advantage over legacy aircraft. In that sense, the A400M is part of the strategic transition associated with other software upgradeable aircraft like the Wedgetail, the P-8, the Triton and the F-35.

My discussion with Fernando Alonso and Lionel Rouby focused on the sensors and software upgradeability of the aircraft built in and the potential impact of leveraging this inherent or built-in capability.

As Alonso put it: “Every A400M may look the same outside, but as the software evolves, new capabilities are generated for the aircraft.”


Question: How would you describe the software upgradeable quality of the A400M and field upgradeable capabilities associated with that upgradeability?

Lionel Rouby: The systems architecture of the aircraft, there are about 5,000 equipment (gathered in more than 200 systems/subsystems) onboard the aircraft and their around 130 of them – key ones – which are software upgradeable and could be uploaded by customers themselves.

You can upload software changes in the field. This makes the system quite flexible for upgrades.

The system is called the DLCS or data load control system, which manages the 130 systems for software upgrades featuring field loadable systems.

Fernando Alonso: For example, with the flight control systems we have software capabilities, which can be modified.

We are upgrading the flight control system to manage load shifts onboard the aircraft is dropping loads.

The center of gravity obviously changes as you drop loads during an operation.

By upgrading the software, although the airplane is physically the same, it now has a new capability associated with the upgrade.

The A400M at the Farnbourgh Airshow 2016. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space
The A400M at the Farnbourgh Airshow 2016. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

And this capability is field loadable.

Lionel Rouby: Key computers onboard the aircraft operate this way, such as the flight management system, the mission management system, the load master work station, the flight warning system, the flight control system or the flight display system.

Obviously, the upgrades is not done in a few minutes but you can do this in a few hours as you ensure that the upgrade to the system has been properly installed and operating.

Question: This is very different from legacy aircraft.

This gives you a 50-year growth cycle and as you build up operational experience, which can shape as well the software changes, desired by customers.

Keeping the aircraft common allows the software upgradeable quality to give customers significant growth in capabilities over time.

But also the digital quality of the aircraft provides significant change in how maintenance can be done as well.

Could you describe this advantage?

Fernando Alonso: Onboard the aircraft are sensors which can provide real time data on the performance of the aircraft and this data can clearly provide key information to shape both an understanding of its operation but provide data for more effective maintenance.

Lionel Rouby: The sensors are there, but the system to exploit the data generated by the sensors is a work in progress.

We can shape a lifetime maintenance system.

We can process on the ground by the maintenance system which can process this data which can shape a customized maintenance system.

You can maintain the aircraft based on real need rather than having predetermined maintenance points.

When a set of conditions has been met, then the maintenance can be performed.

In effect, demand side maintenance can be provided rather than milestone maintenance.

We need to develop the algorithms which can translate the sensor driven data to shape the new maintenance regime which the aircraft can clearly deliver to our customers.

Fernando Alonso: From the standpoint of the airplane the data is there; shaping the systems to exploit the data is a work in progress but is inherent in the technology onboard the aircraft.

Question: This provides you with the opportunity to provide services to the customer to support the digital management process.

 Could you describe these possibilities?

Lionel Rouby: We are opening the door to two new kinds of services to support the A400M.

The first is software maintenance whereby we provide for software upgrades to our customers.

The second is a customized solution by national customers based on mission driven operations.

Fernando Alonso: With the data coming from the aircraft, you can drive down to specific aircraft tails.

This allows customers to shape fleet management options, such as used in the commercial sector.

You can determine the correlation between the actual state of a particular aircraft against missions to determine how best to use the aircraft with its current operational state.

You can target the particular aircraft in its current operational state against lift, tanking, or Special Forces missions for a particular case.

And with the generation of data in flight, it is possible to deliver the data of the aircraft in flight to the ground to prepare the maintenance team PRIOR to the aircraft landing what maintenance needs to be done to get that aircraft back in flight more rapidly.

You can then generate better sortie generation rates by managing the data effectively.

In short, the digital nature of the aircraft provides for inherent upgradeability of the aircraft and new approach to modernization.

And the data generated by the sensors provides the basis for big data management for more effective and realistic maintenance approaches.

For some earlier pieces on the A400M, see the following:

The photos in the slideshow above are credited to the USAF with the exception of the final photo which is credited to the RAF.