Bagful of Goodies

Airbus Military shows off its fleet of aircraft

James Rajan

Soon after Airbus Military won the bid for A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) in the refueller category, FORCE along with other media houses was invited by them to visit their facilities in Spain. The week-long tour, which commenced on 8 January 2013, included a demo tour and visit to Airbus Military’s facilities in San Pablo in Seville and Getafe in Madrid.

A hose and drogue under-wing pods on A330 MRTT
A hose and drogue under-wing pods on A330 MRTT

We were looking forward to the visit as it meant experiencing the look and feel of the aircraft, first-hand chosen to be a part of the Indian Air Force (IAF). In the chilling weather of Spain, the flight in Airbus Military’s aircraft infused in us a new vigour.

At San Pablo plant, Ian Elliot, VP, Defence Capability Marketing, was geared up with a presentation on A330 MRTT and A400 M. The primary focus seemed to be on the Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) for the MRTT.

The Airbus Military A330 MRTT offered all its customers with a choice of air-to-air refuelling options such as – an advanced Airbus Military Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS); a pair of hose and drogue under-wing pods; a hose and drogue Fuselage Refuelling Unit (FRU) and a Universal Aerial Refuelling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI). A combination of these refuelling options is also on offer for its customers to enable both probe and receptacle equipped receivers to be refuelled on the same mission.

The IAF had not requested for any ARBS and went for the wing refuelling pods and a centre-line hose and drogue FRU. Commenting on the choice of the IAF, Elliot said, “If you want to get a lot of fuel into an airplane, boom is the way to get it. The problem is you can only do one airplane at a time… The IAF required it to have wing refuelling pods and a centre-line hose and drogue. There is no IAF requirement for a boom.” He also said, “IAF is interesting because it will have some airplanes that can only be refuelled by a boom. I’m thinking of C-17s and P-8Is.” The IAF C-17 and Indian Navy’s P-8I can only be refuelled by the boom system. “You will have some boom receivers but no boom tankers,” he said.

The MRTT fleets of Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are fitted with the ARBS. The UK Royal Air Force elected to use a FRU for centreline refuelling operations. During the media briefing, Airbus Military was also focused on the MRTT campaign in the Indian market. According to Elliot, A330 MRTT is the only new-generation aircraft flying, and fully certified. Having demonstrated its capability during an extensive flight test campaign and following a first delivery in early June 2011, it made its first flight in Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) service in September 2011.

Airbus Military boasts that A330 MRTT is one of the most capable tanker/transporter available at present. Derived from the successful A330-200 series which has a wing large enough to hold all the fuel needed, the A330 MRTT is able to carry up to 111 tonnes /245,000 lb of fuel in its wings alone. It also boasts that A330 MRTT is the only aircraft able to perform simultaneously three different types of missions: Aerial refuelling (Tanker role), passenger and/or freight transport, and/or medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) — making it exceptionally productive. Additionally, its fuel capacity is sufficient to supply the required quantities without the need for any additional tanks, or major structural modifications and it is able to carry more passengers and more freight than any competing type.

The Indian media also got a chance to visit Getafe, where Airbus Military’s conversion facility of A330 MRTT is located. At Getafe, civil airbus A330 airframes are converted into MRTT aircraft. We got a closer look of A330 MRTT which was getting ready to take off for delivery to the Saudi kingdom.

Another important discussion at the Indian media briefing was the C-295 medium lift transport aircraft which was competing for IAF’s Avro replacement programme. While the proposal was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by defence minister A.K. Antony last year, Request for Proposal (RFP) is yet to come out. Airbus Military is hoping to be invited to present the RFP by the next financial year.

Next we were taken to the Light & Medium Final Assembly Line (FAL) by Juan Pablo Molero, head of the Global Supply Chain and Rafael Moreno, Head of L&M Engineering, and Jeronimo Amador, head, market development, light and medium transport. They explained the workings of Light & Medium aircraft CN235 and C295. During the visit, we also chanced upon the training centre and simulator of C295.

Fernando Ciria Bailo, head of market development, ISR, briefed us on light & medium maritime/ISR capabilities of CN235 and C295. Next, we visited Fully Integrated Tactical Systems (FITS) Development Lab headed by Sergio González Tejedor, head of L-ASW & SIGINT Systems Engineering, who guided us around the lab.

Airbus Military’s campaign for the C295 focussed mainly on two strong points. One, simple and robust — which allows the aircraft to be operational with little maintenance and secondly, the versatility of the aircraft in transport, ISR and special versions. Comparing it with the competitors in the Avro replacement programme, Amador said, “The C295 carries more troops, paratroops, containers and pallets than the competitors.” Giving the details, he also added, “A C-295 saves USD30 million in fuel and maintenance over the life cycle compared to a C-27J”.

One of the main advantages, according to Amador, was that the C295 is available in an Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) version. Derived from the Surveillance and Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) version of the C295, the C295 ASW is equipped with a tactical system proven during MPA/ASW missions, and under-wing stations to carry weapons and other stores. It represents a modern, risk-free and much more efficient alternative to older generation veterans such as the P-3 Orion or the Bréguet Atlantic, while its operating and maintenance costs are significantly lower.

According to Amador, Airbus Military is now developing an Airborne Early Warning & Command (AEW &C) version of its C295. The primary sensor of the AEW&C to be fitted into the six metre/20 feet rotodome, will be the IAI/ELTA 4th Generation Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar with integrated IFF (Identification Friend and Foe). The C295 AEW&C is poised to provide high quality 360 degree surveillance, creating in real-time an integrated Air and Maritime Situation Picture and Electronic Order of Battle. A C295 fitted with a rotodome demonstrator has been conducting flight trials from Airbus Military’s Seville facility since early June 2011.

The requirement from the ministry of home affairs for the troop transport and surveillance operations was also covered during the press interaction. Also, the company was planning to pitch the C295 for civilian operations. “The robustness and versatility of the C295 make it the ideal platform for any type of military or civic operations for the benefit of society. The aircraft performs any type of mission: from personnel, troop and bulky/palletised cargo transportation to casualty evacuation, communication and logistic duties, search and rescue, surveillance and control, homeland security, or certified air-dropping,” Airbus Military officials said. It can apparently be rapidly reconfigured between these roles, reducing the risk exposure when operating in hostile environments. Amador also pointed out that the key to the aircraft’s unique patrol and surveillance capabilities was the Airbus Military-designed Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) which integrates, controls and displays the mission sensors, enhancing mission awareness and facilitating decision making.

Other C295 special versions include: Gunship (Close Air Support to ground troops, convoys, facilities, etc), Tactical Aerial Refuelling (to increase the radius of action for combat SAR or Special Ops helicopters).

Next stop in the media tour was the Final Assembly Line (FAL) of the A400 aircraft. Juan Silva, Head of FAL, guided and explained in detail the functioning of A400 FAL which included the programming and installation.

In the Indian market, according to Ian Elliot, A400M could fill the gap between the tactical transporters and strategic airlifters. “The A400M is not only a perfect airlifter and troop transporter. It can also very easily be converted into an air to air refuelling tanker. It has been conceived from the outset for this dual role, providing enhanced utilisation of the aircraft”, an Airbus Military official said. A400M can apparently perform three very different types of duties: short range, tactical missions directly to the site of action, and longer range strategic/logistic operations, as well as being able to serve as a ‘tanker’. Powered by four unique counter-rotating Europrop International (EPI) TP400 turboprop power plants, the A400M offers a wide flight envelope in terms of both speed and height.