Despite of the long 5-year delay of the plane’s roll out is the Airbus A-400M military transport still has an operational relevance in our post 9 / 11 world?
By: Ringo Bones
Ever since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and other high-value targets – oft referred to as 9 / 11 – was allowed to happen, it forever changed not only on how the wars currently waged but in the foreseeable future as well. The new paradigm on warfare had moved lucrative defense R&D funds from major aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin, Grumman, and Boeing – just to name a few – to specialist small arms manufacturers like Knight’s Armament Company and Alexander Arms. With the shift of the fight to the infantry level instead of miles above the Earth, are specialist military transports – like the long-delayed Airbus A400M Military Transport still relevant in our post-9 / 11 world?
Back in the days of the American Civil War, General Nathan Bedford Forrest states that in order to win a battle, “you had to get there the “firstest” with the “mostest”.” General Forrest’s idea might have been stated in grammatical shambles, but it shaped modern logistic operations from that time on. In the current American military parlance, the “C” designation means only one thing – planes that get there first with the most. But with the almost insurmountable market dominance of the Lockheed C-130 HERCULES, a venerable but aging military transport that the Airbus A400M Military Transport was meant to replace, will there be any buyers for the much-delayed Airbus A400M Military Transport? After all, value-for-money military cargo planes like the C-130 HERCULES have proven themselves useful during the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the Global War on Terror, right?
In service with the U.S. Air Force since 1956, the Lockheed C-130 HERCULES was often referred to as the “ugliest” plane ever designed by famed SKUNKWORKS engineer Kelly Johnson back in the days were slide-rules and analog computers were still considered state of the art tools in aerospace engineering. A four-engined turboprop tactical transport that was purchased and used by the British Royal Air Force for a significant portion of the Cold War and exported to various countries friendly to the United States. This venerable plane – which served as a backbone of almost all of the free world’s military logistical operations – also has an inextricable success of both delivering combat troops and materiel as well as vital relief goods during times of disaster. Given that the C-130 HERCULES still works like a charm and a good portion of the world’s not so well financially endowed armed forces can still easily afford it, is there still an economically viable need to create –even manufacture – a replacement for the venerable C-130 HERCULES?
After seeing its much-delayed test flight in the southern part of Spain recently aired on TV on December 11, 2009, the Airbus A-400M Military Transport does seem to look like a technological tour-de-force that’s more advanced than the venerable Lockheed-designed transport it plans to dethrone. The graceful curves of the A-400M’s eight-bladed propeller appears to be designed on a supercomputer a generation or two more advanced than an early 1990s Cray YXP supercomputer. And those four eight-bladed propellers, together with the plane’s technologically advanced turboprop / gas turbine engine which was the main cause of its roll out to be delayed for 5 years not only make the Airbus A400M Military Transport more fuel efficient than the C-130 HERCULES, but also significantly quieter as well. The extensive use of advanced composites means that the Airbus A400M is inherently more fuel-efficient than its aluminum alloy-based competition, the question now is, will the new Airbus A400M Military Transport manage to capture the market that has been ruled by Lockheed’s C-130 HERCULES transport plane for more than 50 years?