For the Record

At TMB 2014, Airbus Defence and Space had an enhanced portfolio

A FORCE Report

Seville/ Madrid (Spain): Unlike the four earlier editions of international Trade Media Briefings (TMB), this time around the head of Airbus Defence and Space (Military Aircraft), Domingo Urena-Raso appeared a bit subdued initially. But it was just the play of light, in the fading hours of the day at La Hacienda, a 17th century Andulasian fort on the outskirts of Seville.

Domingo Urena-RasoThe moment he took to the mike at the impromptu podium, Domingo was his usual self: confident and exuberant. Despite a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer that he has been asked to speak less, he spoke about the global defence market and his company’s products. His central message was two-fold: while the markets in Europe have shrunk, there are new opportunities in Latin America, Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Moreover, as technologies are both expensive and fast changing, it has become necessary for companies to consolidate within and to seek cooperation with other companies for marrying of capabilities. Domingo believes that challenges should not constraint deliverables; as companies are answerable to its shareholders, ways had to be found to show results.

His was no empty speechmaking. Domingo’s career profile is proof that he is an asset to his company. Domingo was appointed chairman and CEO of Airbus Military (part of EADS group) in February 2009 with his company getting raised two months later in April 2009. Then, on 31 July 2013, EADS announced a change of name to Airbus Group, after which its three companies, namely Astrium, Cassidian and Airbus Military were merged to form Airbus Defence and Space. Domingo, in his new avatar is the executive vice president of Military Aircraft, an expanded entity than the earlier Airbus Military. The new Airbus Defence and Space Military Aircraft is responsible for six products: light and medium aircraft, Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), A400M, Eurofighter, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and services; Eurofighter and UAS being the addition.

It was Domingo’s idea to start international TMB each year from 2010. As he told FORCE, “A customer needs to be familiar with a product before he decides to buy it.” This was done in two ways: demo tours and visit to facilities. Slipped between product updates to invited journalists are visits to production facilities located essentially in Spain. Headquartered in Madrid, the company’s main sites are Getafe, close to Madrid, where civil Airbus A330 airframes are converted into MRTT aircraft, and Seville, where the San Pablo factory, south of the airport, hosts the A400M final assembly line opened in 2007, as well as the complete production and final assembly of the C212, CN235 and C295. Toulouse in France is A400M’s delivery centre. The four partner nations are the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy. Eurofighter is an addition to the military aircraft stable.

A330 MRTT, which is being sought by the IAF on the production line
A330 MRTT, which is being sought by the IAF on the production line

The company’s business strategy, as articulated by head of commercial, Military Aircraft, Antonio Rodriguez Barberan is premised on the fact that, “the customer wants more with less money”. This implies he wants to be familiar with the product, wants a single platform to be multi-purpose, wants small life cycle costs, and wants support worldwide.

Given this understanding, the company’s business thinking has four discernible strands. One, focus on offsets or industrial alliances to be close to the customer. Two, convert platforms for multi-tasking to meet various requirements. Three, show products to the customers before attempting to put a price tag on it for selling them. And four, update engineering and technologies of the product. The last issue is most demanding and depends on how much money the company puts into research and development. During TMB-2012, Domingo had told FORCE that he puts 10 per cent of his revenues into R&D. The other way for the company to grow is through cooperation with other companies. Case in point is the C295 AEW where Airbus Military had partnered with Elta of Israel for the full 360 degree coverage AESA-fast rotodome radar. This is an important reason for repeat orders of the company’s light and medium aircraft.

Speaking about the new products, Barderan was euphoric about Eurofighter which, according to him, has a global market opportunity to sell 700 aircraft. “The aircraft is the backbone of European air defence and worldwide reference for air superiority and swing role,” he said. On UAS, Barderan explained that the company was “developing strategy to be world leaders in one year.”

A330 MRTT

A330 MRTTRegarding products with Military Aircraft, the MRTT, from India’s perspective, is, at present, the most important. The A330 MRTT is all set to win the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) USD over 1.3 billion order for six tanker aircraft. The trials are long over and the signing of the contract after clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is awaited.

According to vice president, head of military derivatives programmes, Antonio Caramazana, “the deal is fully negotiated and has been signed by us.” When do you expect it to be signed? “We had expected this to happen at the end of last year (2013). The IAF, we know, is keen to acquire the MRTT,” he said. The Indian A330 MRTT, when acquired, will be powered by Rolls Royce Trent 700 engine. Antonio also confirmed that India, when it signs the contract “will be eligible for the A330 MRTT Enhanced version”. This will obviate the need for India to have two production lines as the civilian A330 will also be the new variant.

The A330 MRTT Enhanced will be based on the most recent A330 aircraft variant version from Toulouse with new structural and aerodynamic packs, and Power-8 computers which imply new displays and green aircraft computers (avionics pack).

The new green aircraft configured A330 MRTT will have numerous military upgrades. These will include mission system upgrade, MPS upgrade, Boom upgrade 3, Boom visual system upgrade, solutions for implementing IFF M5/ DS-B, and improvements in the industrialisation process. Antonio further said that the prototype of A330 MRTT Enhanced will start conversion in October this year, with the flight test expected to be done in July 2016. The deliveries to all future customers of the new configured version will start in late 2017. This development may be blessing in disguise for the IAF which has long been scouting for a MRTT.

In a no-cost-no-commitment mode, the then Airbus Military (AM) had, in 2012, sent its aircraft to Gwalior, the base of Mirage 2000 aircraft. There, as well as at Leh (10,700 feet), the A330 MRTT successfully refuelled multiple receivers, including the Su-30MKI for the first time.

Speaking with FORCE during TMB-2012, Domingo had said that: “We will be flexible. We have the best aircraft.” The A330 MRTT, in competition with Russian IL-78, is indeed the better aircraft. Its scores heavily in two areas: its large fuel load capacity of 111 tonne fuel, and its dual transport capability. The A330 MRTT can ferry 300 troops, or up to 45,000kg payload, or up to 130 stretchers for medical evacuation, or the desired mix of the three.

Even when the MRTT deal was rejected by India in 2009, the IAF was all praise for A330 MRTT. Then, the IAF chief, ACM F.H. Major had said in an interview that the air force after having tendered four years ago, had selected the A330 MRTT as its new tanker, and the matter awaited clearance from the CCS. Unfortunately, that did not come about and the defence ministry in a terse note informed the competitors in 2009 that the deal was scrapped and would be re-tendered. There are two theories for this volte face: The finance ministry had put its foot down saying that it had not catered for the deal amount which EADS’ AM was asking. And, the US’ Boeing had to be accommodated into the tanker campaign. Both thoughts sounded plausible. But, it turned out that Boeing did not eventually participate in the re-tender.

This A330 MRTT is a proven aircraft meeting the IAF’s air staff requirements. The IAF has sought both the under-wing pods and FRU in the tankers; Cobham has provided its 905E under-wing pods, and also 805E fuselage refuelling unit (FRU). The FRU being much thicker than the wing pods, it can transfer substantive amount of fuel for large aircraft. Thus, while the wing pods are meant for fighters alone, FRU will be used for both fighters and large transport aircraft.

The A330 MRTT offers unique military strategic air transport as well as air-to-air refuelling capabilities. It is based on the latest medium to long range, twin-aisle, and commercial aircraft of the Airbus fly-by-wire family, the A330. The civil version from which the A330 MRTT is derived, the A330-200, already benefits from the most up-to-date design and manufacturing techniques, and integrates the most advanced avionics as well as the proven fly-by-wire control systems which allow total flight envelope protection. Representing the state-of-the-art in its category, the A330-200 has a maximum range of 8,000 nm/ 14,800 km, with a maximum speed of Mach 0.86. It is the primary choice as a platform for a multi role tanker transport, offering the best performance at the lowest investment and costs. It provides the best value for money, with potential for long-term growth as confirmed by its recent successes in the market.

Unmanned Aerial Systems
During his presentation, the head of UAS, Jens Nielsen, made some interesting remarks on future market trends. According to him, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will have both a civilian and military market in the future; the dominant military market and the evolving civilian market will have parallel growth. The next gen of military UAS will include weaponised systems. This is not all. The autonomy technologies developed through UAS are expected to be the basis for future aircraft transport capabilities to include their insertion into space.

Having underscored across the board import of UAS, Nielsen foresees a priority demand of the European Union countries for a common EU UAS. Given such proliferating market, the UAS growth will follow the lease-operate-maintain concept. Having suggested the future trends, Nielsen made special reference to four products: Harfang Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE), Euro Hawk, Tanan tactical UAS, and High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS).

The Harfang MALE is combat proven UAV, which is based on Heron-1 UAS, fitted with Airbus Defence and Space surveillance solution and high performance broadband SatCom satellite link. Its flexibility stems from its multi-payload and multi-mission capability. It has high level of reliability owing to redundant avionics and can do an automatic change from line of sight to SatCom.

The Euro Hawk is a co-operation between Northrop Grumman and Cassidian. This HALE system is fitted with the latest SIGINT equipment which provides stand-off wide-area surveillance. Its other capabilities include detection of electronic intelligence (ELINT) radar emitters and communications intelligence (COMINT) emitters. It has an Active electronically scanned array (AESA) antenna technology.

Tanan is a tactical UAS with a powerful diesel engine. It is a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft especially suited for maritime surveillance. Two operators can deploy this UAS, also in unprepared areas and at sea. It has the ability to cover large operational area at a range of 180 km with a 50 kg payload for more than eight hours at a time. Thus, Tanan can be used in a variety of tasks which include maritime surveillance; search and rescue; reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition; convoy and VIP protection; harbours and offshore platforms surveillance; providing image and communications intelligence; and monitoring critical infrastructure and major events.

For the various tasks, Tanan can be fitted with a variety of sensors like a combined high definition electro-optical/infrared day and night imaging sensor; maritime radar for maritime operations and missions on the coast; AIS for vessel identification; and electronic intelligence sensors or communication intelligence sensors. All sensors can be fitted in several modular configurations.

HAPS or satellite capability on a flying platform, which is still at the demonstration phase, holds a lot of promise. It has completed communication and electro-optics tests during a recent 14 days demonstration. The system operates with an electric battery propeller, and according to Nielsen, it will score heavily over satellites in low earth orbits on two counts: unlike a LEO which has a fixed revisit time, HAPS can dwell all the time on the target. And, it will have a low cost maintenance while having a high degree of autonomy similar to satellites. HAPS is expected to find its niche in the market earliest.

A 400M

A400M production line in Sevilla, Spain
A400M production line in Sevilla, Spain

A400M is not just another aircraft product from Military Aircraft, but the company is simply passionate about it. It believes that A400M is the most versatile airlifter and can respond to varied needs of global air forces in this century.

Maggie-BergsmaThe unique aspect of A400M is that it can perform three very different types of duties: short range tactical missions directly to the site of action; longer range strategic/logistics 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 fight envelop in terms of both speed and height. It is the ideal airlifter to fulfil the diverse requirements of nations around the world in terms of military, humanitarian and other ‘civic’ missions for the benefit of society.

The A400M was launched in 2003 in response to the combined needs of seven European nations, namely, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Spain, Turkey and the UK, with Malaysia joining in 2005. This is one of the reasons for its extreme versatility. Its maiden flight took place on 11 December 2009. In 2012, 60 journalists, including FORCE, were flown in a chartered flight from Madrid to Toulose, the A400M final delivery centre.

According to the briefing given by head of A400 programme, Rafael Tentor on 9 June 2014 to TBM-14 journalists, since this year, A400M is in operation with two main customers: France and Turkey. And the next target for A400M is to achieve new tactical capabilities when the aircraft will get full aerial delivery, self-defence and tanker capabilities in 2015. However, from India’s perspective, A400, despite its capabilities, versatility and flexibility, will not be of much interest. The IAF has recently purchased the US’ C-130J and C-17 aircraft.

 

 

Harfang MALE controlled successfully from a French Air Force base almost 5,000 km away

Harfang MALE controlled successfully from a French Air Force base almost 5,000 km awayA Harfang Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) of the French Air Force (FAF) controlled by a crew from the French Military Flight Test Centre, the UAS Squadron ‘Belfort’ (ED 1/33) and the UAS detachment stationed in the Sahel-Sahara region has successfully undergone testing to prove that once it has taken off from its overseas deployment base it can be controlled from a cockpit located in France.

The flight represents a first and proves the ‘Reach-back’ concept. With a flight time of around one hour, the experimental flight carried out under operational conditions proved that the UAS piloting functions could be transferred from the cockpit in Niger, where the UAV took off from, to the cockpit in Cognac almost 5,000km away, and that the main sensor of the UAV could be activated.

This new capability enables an increased ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) capacity without leaving national territory, should it be required in the theatre of operations.

The current Harfang fleet consists of four UAVs and three ground stations. Harfang (the French word for ‘arctic snowy owl’) is a MALE UAS developed for the FAF.

The French defence procurement agency DGA recently signed a contract with Airbus Defence and Space and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for the upgrade of the FAF’s Harfang fleet, as well as for its on-condition maintenance until the end of 2017.

Harfang, which is based on the IAI Heron platform, is a combat-proven Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) system in the MALE UAS category that is designed for reconnaissance and in-depth tracking operations in the battlefield.

It is equipped with optronic sensors and radar, which ensure that missions can be carried out around the clock in all weather conditions. Thanks to its long endurance capability, the UAS is capable of transmitting data in real time to national and international joint command structures. The programme is led by Airbus Defence and Space in close cooperation with IAI, which developed and constructed the aerial platform as well as a number of subsystems.

The Harfang UAS has been successfully operated since November 2008 by the ED 1/33 Belfort of the FAF, which is stationed at the Cognac 709 air base in south-west France. For three years (2009-2012), Harfang was deployed in Afghanistan to support the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops. Deployed at the US base in Bagram, the Harfang system has performed 600 missions and clocked up around 5,000 flight hours. In 2011, Harfang was also deployed at the Sigonella base in Italy as part of the Harmattan operation conducted in Libya.

More recently, the Harfang UAS has been used in several French operations in the Sahel region in Africa, notably since January 2013 in Operation Serval in Mali. During its 15-month deployment at the Niamey base in Niger, Harfang clocked up more than 3,500 flight hours in 250 missions. In February 2014, Harfang passed the symbolic mark of 10,000 flight hours, which it clocked up in over 900 missions for the FAF.

The Harfang system was granted military type certification in 2010 by the DGA. Thanks to this certification, the versatile system has since been used in regular operations over French national territory, for instance during FAF operator training in Cognac and for internal security purposes during major national events, such as the Bastille Day military parade, and international events, for example the G8 Summit, and, more recently, the D-Day anniversary ceremonies in Normandy.