2009/01/22

Airbus A400M - another project in trouble

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I posted recently about over-length military hardware programs.
The Financial Times Deutschland adds some context today with a new article about the Airbus A400M:

The FTD reported earlier that Airbus doesn't seem to achieve more than 29 tons of payload (several tons short), today they report about a longer list of troubles.
- likely delay till 2014
- already € 2 billion loss for Airbus in the project
- engine software troubles
- not capable of all demanded military flight maneuvers
- wing area too small
- Airbus wants to re-negotiate

General Stieglitz, inspector-general of the Luftwaffe (chief of the air force) already complained about the delays in all major Luftwaffe programs; A400M, NH90 and Eurofighter/Typhoon (previously known as "J├Ąger 90" - the greens got laughed at when they expected DM 20 billion costs in the 1980's; less than the actual costs!).

The A400M story is quite outrageous because it was originally an industrial policy project; the Ukrainian-Russian Antonov-70 design was quite advanced when the A400M project was launched. A westernized (cockpit mostly) An-70 was expected to be more capable, cheaper and available at an earlier date than A400M.
The An-70 project died a slow death due to lack of funds from Ukraine/Russia - it wouldn't have been a smooth program, but would probably already be in full production with less costs than A400M so far.
Even Western aviation journals of the 90's favored the An-70, favorable publishing articles about it repeatedly till the A400M decision.

We've actually hurt the industry with the A400M project; engineers were distracted from A380 and A350 projects, and Airbus had cost overruns to bear (that will probably drive up the fly-away price for us!).

The Luftwaffe had almost a one-size-fits-it-all approach for air-lift, just like previously with the C-160 Transall; just one major transport aircraft instead of a mix of small/medium/heavy ones.
The A400M project will likely survive, not the least due to a lack of alternatives.
The primary problem is the lack of a transport aircraft with the right payload; new AFVs (like our new IFV Puma) are often around 30 tons in weight, requiring a payload of about 32-33 tons with useful range at the very least.
The market has several offers for smaller transport aircraft (like C-295, C-27), for larger ones (An-70 is no real competitor any more, maybe the old Il-76) and for very large payloads (An-124, C-17).

A mix of C-295 and C-17 would be an alternative to A-400M and might (despite the high cost of C-17's) even be cheaper & quicker due to no development needs.

Long story short; an attempt to beef up our aircraft industry went wrong due to the latter's incompetence and we end up with another overpriced, under-performing, over-length military hardware project.
We could have sunk the money into better army training (ammunition, fuel, spare parts) for real value.

Sven Ortmann

5 comments:

  1. Hi Sven,

    I work for EADS in Seville, Spain, at the assembly factory of the A400M.

    I wanted to thank you for this interesting post. To be honest it surprised me how well you summarise a number of problems that are impacting badly in the A400M.

    Whilst A400M is indeed the most important program for the Spanish branch of EADS (what used to be Military Transport Division, now Airbus Military) it is certainly not _the_ priority for the French and German branches, which seem far more worried about commercial A380 & A350 programs.

    As a result, resources have been shifted away from A400M, and development has slowed. Best designers moved to A350. Teams of Germans and French sent over to Seville are virtually abandoned to themselves with little home support.

    Add to this the disaster of EPI and it is no surprise the way the program is going.

    But in addition to this, it must be said that the terms of the contract were unreasonable. I think both Boeing and EADS are showing that they are far too optimistic about what they can actually achieve.

    Developing A/C is a complicated business.

    Greetings and congratulations on the blog. Keep up the good work.

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  2. Why is the An-70 dead? From the information I heard, the Aircraft had stopped flying in 2006 because the major components of the prototype had been approved for 10 years, normally well enough to complete a certification program, but not enough in this case. Antonov had to overhaul and update the whole aircraft, something they did between Summer 2006 and Summer 2008. Last fall, the An-70 took back to the air and resumed its certification program.
    All it would take, would be for a few A-400M customers to cancel their A-400M order, and opt for a An-70 for that cash strapped program to be put back on track, possibly to a quick certification and and series production. Quicker than the A-400M anyway.....

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  3. The An-70 program is now a history of failure, and I believe to remember that the Russians aren't interested much in it any more. The Russian-Ukrainian relationship has deteriorated in the past few years and the Il-76 can still do the same job.

    The An-70 is in my opinion no real alternative now any more because we already committed to the A-400M and would need to have a clearly superior alternative (like near-instant buy of proven designs without development costs) to quit the program.

    IIRC the Westernization would have included a Western glass cockpit (that could almost be copied from existing types) and Western engines (I never understood why) - a considerable development effort.

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  4. Another couple comments: despite the propaganda that is made around the "tactical" capabilities of the Boeing C-17, its short field capabilities are not what they claim to be. You will have a hard time finding an actual short runway where any C-17 has actually landed in any operation (probably none under 4500 feet). A US GAO report revealed that the C-17 needed unusually long runways to land when the surface was wet, in the 6000 foot range. One cannot plan an assault landing on the assumption that the landing runway will be dry and cleared of snow.
    Furthermore, the C-17's ACN (Aircraft Classification Number, or the weight of its footprint) is between 17 and 46, according to weight. It is higher than even a C-5 Galaxy which is between 11 and 31. An IL-76 does not go above 27, same as the Hercules. No normal unsurfaced runway in the world can sustain C-17 landings, which carve out 18 inch deep ruts in the landing area of these runways at each landing. To practise unsurfaced tactical landings, the USAF and the Australian Air Force had to speically build extra resistant "unsurfaced" runways that could withstand the C-17's impact at landing.
    The C-17 is basically a strategic aircraft that has tactical capabilies, such as air drop. As far as the number of runways it can actually use, its not much better than the C-141 it replaced. The is no way a C-17 can replace a A-400M except in the long range stratigic role.

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  5. Its true that the Russian turned their back on the An-70, but has to wonder if the Orange revolution and Ukraine's eargerness to join the EU and Specially NATO are not the real reason, rather than technical deficiencies of the aircraft itself. Its a mostly Ukrainian project, with Ukrainian engines (but with many Russian components)
    Russia is also looking at cost. It was rumored the An-70 was going to cost around 80 million dollars, the price of a Hercules. However, the last brand new Ilyushin Il-76TD-90 delivered to Volga Dnepr and Silk Way in 2007 and 2008 reportedly cost only around 50 million. Furthermore, Russian engine manufaturer Perm developped a new engine for the Il-76, the PS-90 that put new life into existing airframes. Russia owns hundreds of old IL-76 that they have begun to re-engine, a much cheaper alternative than ordering 165 new An-70 has they had previously thought of doing. Of course, the IL-76 cannot land in a farmers field as the An-70 can.....
    Antonov An-70 STOL & Soft field

    Nice Blog by the way.....

    ReplyDelete

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