back to article RAF's new military airlifter finally lumbers into the air

Another doleful milestone for British taxpayers and servicemen today, as the A400M military transport plane takes to the air for its first test flight. The A400M - a decade late and massively overbudget - continues to drain the UK's defence coffers though better alternatives are readily available: meanwhile our fighting troops …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hold on let me get this right

    We already own C17's. We have pilots and navigators trained to fly them? Engineers trained to maintain them? Presumably we've also got the complementary Lockheed care plan and a warehouse full of spares to keep them in the air. The plane is available like now...

    ...and we've decided to go and buy something else?

    The MoD simply isn't fit for purpose. We should scrap it, flog off the buildings and sell the defence contract to Tiscali who after all, have a record of ruining life for millions of people that the British military can only aspire to.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      No, we don't own them...

      Yet - we only rent them, but IIRC there is an option to buy. However, the advantage of the A400M over the C-17 is its ability to land on small, rough unprepared airstrips, which is probably what's swinging the decision.

  2. Paul_Murphy

    How sad,

    We used to be right at the forefront of aircraft design (TSR2/SR177 and oh so many others) not to mention other forms of transport (hovercraft) and though there were plenty of gaffs (the Lightnings' endurance) it wasn't until the USA pulled the 'it will all be done by missiles' line that the government of the day decided to kill off the British aviation industry.

    This half-arsed mucking around approach is even worse - either we develop our own stuff entirely, or we buy from over seas, trying to do both at the same time is madness.

    Right - time for a coffee.


    1. Il Midga di Macaroni

      It all dates back to 1958...

      I think it was 1958 - the infamous Duncan Sandys report on the future of warfare. All wars are going to be fought with guided missiles, said Duncan. So we don't need any more aircraft, ever. Oh, I guess the V-bombers are too far along in their development to cancel, what a shame.

      At that moment Britain lost the lead in the development of military aircraft, and has not regained it since. All the attempts to do so have been in conjunction with the whole of Europe, which has naturally doomed them to fail.

      Find the man and string him up. He did more harm than all the Soviet forces put together.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Take a parachute and Jump

    You are missing the point: C-17 is a jet, and this one is a prop. EADS already has its dual-use jet, which blows the C-17 away (large dual use props would be a hard sell, this is why it became 2nd dev).

  4. The Indomitable Gall

    Missed leave...?

    "Often missing large chunks of their hard-earned home leaves waiting for delayed or cancelled planes;"

    Happens in civvie street all the time.

    Terminal 5? 9/11? Ryanair...?

  5. Anonymous Coward

    wider thant just shopping

    While not wishing to parade my ignorance of procurement etc. by commenting on the details of times, prices, requirement and capabilities (bet the Antonovs are much cheaper and better value? USA not always equal to good or best), does this author ever consider that when a government spends money, it has to think rather wider than cost or even, unfortunately, immediate and narrow purpose.

    High tech. projects in particular are about more than the kit itself, especially when combined with manufacturing. They promote technical and manufacturing ability and development, train and employ people now and for the future and, when multi-national, including EU wide, are important elements of diplomacy and international relations.

    I would agree about the apparent contradictions in buying kit that depends heavily on a non-European source for important components.

    But perhaps the real thing to consider is the raison d'etre in the first place. The author notes the UK forces' many foreign adventures. Surely, the real question is, whatever or whoever for? Without these all too often pointless and not-serving-our-interests relics of times past or grovelling to a country that could not give a toss about us or is even negative towards us, we would not need most of this expensive kit anyway - problem and budget solved (though may be unemployment not helped!).

    Perhaps those who think that supporting the USA in its global pretensions is good should move there and join their army directly rather than make UK a proxy for it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Pork barrel engineering benefits no-one

      "High tech. projects in particular are about more than the kit itself, especially when combined with manufacturing. They promote technical and manufacturing ability and development, train and employ people now and for the future "

      I disagree, they promote "dinosaur" processes for both design and manufacture - these skills are not useable in any commercial context, they live only in their own time-zone, decades of development, and cost zone, millions.

      Engineers trained in this manner are all but useless at anything else, sorry guys.

  6. DI_Wyman

    I blame..

    ..Frank Whittle for this! If it wasn't for him and his jet engine witchcraft we would all still be perfectly happy with the likes of the Avro York, the Douglas Dakota and Handley Page Hastings!

  7. Desk Jockey

    It flies!

    Before people suggest getting C-17s instead of A400M, the C-17 is a strategic airlifter, the A400M is a tactical airlifter capable of conducting some strategic tasks. The C-17 is incapable of conducting a tactical role. The UK's tactical lift is based on C-130s which HAVE to be replaced soon, there is no life left in them. More replacement C-130s is very undesirable for a number of reasons.

    Knock the A400M all you want Lewis, it does a heck of a lot that no other plane can do, that comes at a price. I bet you didn't even know some mad Americans were floating the idea of buying some A400Ms too?! A bit of competition is good for the market place, having to shop only American or Russian for your airlift needs gives them far too much power. The A400M may be late, expensive and not perfect, but it is a rare example of European hi tech and innovative thinking which it is politically and economically important to support.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What's wrong with the Herc?

      Why are more replacement C-130s very undesirable? It may be old but it works.

      And there are other alternatives to Russian and American manufacture: the Chinese have announced a 200-tonne military transport aircraft (I'm not sure why the first page I found it also advertised replica Rolex watches, but then I evidently don't have much understanding of Chinese military culture).

    2. Alan Firminger


      The A400 was called the heavy lift aircraft. Fly a tank in, kill a few people, and bring everyone back to base for tea.

      The Hercules crash during the Kosovo war is relevant. It was full of SAS troopers off to heroics.

      But delayed projects are always failures because the early work is out of date.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        except Afghanistan

        were the Russians took their tanks and got blown to bits. The modern army should take a look at the effectiveness of lightly armed paramilitary fighting uints as a bluepriont for the future not massive overly-logistical long range operations. The most effective force in Afghanistan under Russian occupation was the Spetznaz (Special forces) who operated like the enemy on their terms.

  8. DickD

    So who is making these decisions?

    If the decisions are so bad - can you name and shame the people making them?

  9. Ian 35

    Defence Procurement as a Game

    The problem is that all through from the 50s to the early 80s, defence procurement was a game. No one _really_ thought that a war starting with either a pre-emptive nuclear strike by the Russians or the the 2nd Shock Army streaming through the Fulda Gap was really winnable, or even fightable in a meaningful sense, so the whole military-industrial complex turned into a game. Lots of money, but no real outcomes. Falklands proved the stupidity of that: we had a navy that couldn't defend itself against essentially third-world forces, so would be totally incapable against anyone serious, an airforce that could only engage in pointless raids over a long distance, raids that a proper carrier could have provided hour in and hour out, by dredging scrapyards and an Army that was woefully undermanned. But since then, it's not got any better. The Air Force continue to fight not even the last war but in fact the early parts of the second world war (hell, by 1943 the game was up for short-range interceptors), the Navy has a few sub-hunters for a submarine threat that doesn't exist and non-functional air defence pickets for a fleet that no longer exists and the poor bloody Infantry pick up the pieces.

    Britain could use a large, conventional or nuclear carrier with a fleet of low-tech aircraft. INdeed, for present problems, the Ark Royal circa 1972 plus some old Buccaneers would be a seriously useful force. The air force should just be all loaded onto carriers, but if they can't manage that should stop pissing about in fast jets (to fight whom, exactly?) and see if they can buy some decent ground attack aircraft, while the Army should get some decent helicopters.

    1. jvs

      UK's dryland assets & deployments:

      Cypress, Iraq, Kuwait, U.A.E., Saudi-Arabia, Afghanistan,

      Plus biffing up Australia in case of an Indonesian onslaught.

    2. Bitsucker

      Super Tucano?

      The RAF already use the Short Tucano prop trainer to train fast jet pilots, as it has similar handling characteristics to the Jet Provost, the previous training aircraft.

      Embraer now make the Super Tucano, a relatively cheap multi role aircraft that could be deployed more effectively in places like Afghanistan, where a squadron of fighters overhead allows much more time over target and repeat attacks by the same aircraft if necessary. Even the US has toyed with buying about 100 of them. If we wanted to pay through the nose then I suppose that Britain could make their own versions.

      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        fast jets....

        Isn't that what the yanks found out in 'Nam, carriers full of phantoms may look cool and are great fun to fly, but to support the grunts, it was aircraft like the OV-1 and OV-10 that enabled fast jets to fly in deliver a few bombs and then depart, but it was aircraft with an extended loiter time like the Douglas A-1 that could provide continuous cover, and with its lower airspeed had more time to select targets.

        Sorry, fast jets as ground support – fail.

  10. Sean Bergeron

    Don't think the US is free from this sort of racket

    While El Reg focuses on MoD's failures, there is an Airbus aircraft that would be better than an American offering that the Congress (due to political pressure from Boeing) is doing everything it can to prevent Northrop Grumman/EADS from winning -- the KC-45. Even NG/EADS' promise to build it (and the A-340) in Alabamastan hasn't helped the cause. You are not alone, UK, in defense acquisition boondoggles.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Do not let facts get in the way

      Actually the contract was reviewed and issues raised by the Government Accountability Office, (mostly a politically neutral body) because the Air Force was not following the RFP (changing the criteria used to judge the winning bid) and Boeing would sue and win.

      But do not let reality get in the way.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        politically neutral yes but civil servants auditing other civil servants' work- doh. Get an outside accounting firm and do it properly

  11. PaulK

    Britain gives you wings...

    Literally. Does anyone for one moment truly believe that the Airbus will leave the wing plants in the UK now that there is no British shareholder? Of course not, unless the government stumps up billions in incentives to keep a few beards in work, which is becoming increasingly hard to justify. Airbus owns the technology, they can do what they want with it. I always thought it was crackers to transport the wings by barge and big fuck off plane to the final assembly line. It's the equivalent of building a boat that will not go through the door of your shed. The wings should be built at the assembly site and in a few years time, they will be.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Funny how i have heard this comment before..

      I have heard this comment so many times since BAE even floated the idea of dropping out of the consortium, but guess what - nothings changed so far! The A350XWB is using the same production facilities, they havent pulled out of Britain for it (and that would have been the logical project to make the switch on).

      There's a simple reason, the UK has specialists in the design and build of these components, if you want to design and build somewhere else, you have to build the manufacturing plants, train the workers and develop the experience, and that is just not cost effective to do. Things arent going to change - EADS is in the business of making money, there not going to do anything to hurt...

  12. Michael Fremlins

    Buying from America is not guaranteed to be cheeper

    Dare I say it, the Joint Strike Fighter...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about the tanks?

    So if the A400M only has a maximum payload of ~30 tonnes how are we going to move our Challenger 2 MBTs to the various conflict zones around the world? at 60+ tonnes we will still need C17s so yet more wasted tax money. Or we could waste a few more million or billion and build a new 30 tonne tank just so it can be carried by our new planes.

    Or maybe just maybe the A400M is to replace only the C130s with their maximum payload of ~20 tonnes where the A400M is an improvement, although i suspect the cost is not justifiable.

    Now the real question is do we need a lighter class of plane or could we manage with only C17s and no C130 or A400M. There must be a reason the US operate both the C17 and the C130 though.

    - Anon

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Mentioned in post AC 15:56

      Bloody hard to parachute from a jet.

      1. SkippyBing

        Oh no it isn't (it's panto season right?)

        Not really,

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        The C17 can drop paratroopers as could the C141 starlifter and both are turbo fans (C130 is a turbo proper aircraft...i.e. still a jet, just with external blades rather than internal). Check Jane's Aircraft if you want confirmation

      3. Joe User

        Re: Parachuting from a jet

        @Anonymous Coward, 17:49: "Bloody hard to parachute from a jet."

        Oh really? U.S. airborne troops never seemed to have much trouble parachuting from the C-141 Starlifter.

      4. Ian 54

        not at all...

        you do realise that a) this is a freight plane, it isn't going to be doing Mach 2, and b) crew can parachute from jets - ever heard of ejector seats in fighter planes???

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Mach 2

          I was obviously under the misguided understanding that due to jet aircraft having a poor minimum airspeeds exiting one would be very dangerous given also poor fuel performance at relative low altitude leaves only maybe HALO which is performed by special forces not parachute troops.

          As for fighter aircraft ejections good luck at ejecting at anything above 500 knots as it will hurt - yes 6 have done it above 800 knots (according to Martin Baker). READ ejection is not carried out as a normal part of pilot work it is used in an emergency and as such is the lesser of two evils.

      5. Andy Berner

        RE: parachuting from a jet...

        I believe this would be a C-17 conducting an airborne drop... perhaps a little harder for the pilot to keep it slow, but I don't believe the jumping out bit requires any more skill...

    2. idasben

      We need the two types of plane, its important to understand the difference.

      Originally in the 1960s when we last went through this debate, we picked the C130 (for whatever reason) to tactically move stuff (troops, ammo, light equiptment and even some of the lighter armour we had such APCs etc) around. This was also designed with the core capability of not requiring a runway much more than a dirt track 600-700 metres long and then being able to unload a relatively large amount of kit quickly, then take off again.

      The large stuff was then going to go via the navy/commercial shipping. It will always be ridiculous to fly a challenger division out to a warzone. Even with C-17's, they can only take 1 tank each, it will take an age to fly the armour out one tank at a time, plus all the support staff, gear, REME support tanks etc. Not including the fact that we still then need a friendly airport waiting with unloading facilities for a fleet of 60+ ton MBT's.

      This difference in role is important, C-17s are good at airlift, and yes they can lift at lot. However they're not going to be lifting tanks, so the weight limit on A400's is irrelevant. The increased capacity does make a difference, but then again, try and land a C-17 on a dirt track and you'll quickly have the answer as to why we need TACTICAL airlift, not just strategic.

      And at the end of the day, why don't get just keep hiring the C-17s/Antonov's anyway? Seeing as Lewis is stating that £100m is purchase cost, plus £100m support (plus training and running the actual bases to keep these things in i imagine) It may well be cheaper to pay by the lift.

      Maybe FedEx or UPS will start a military shipping service that would commercially challenge the airlift capabilities of the MOD? We do live in a capitalist country after all, free market and all that.....

    3. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Wasn't designed for tanks

      The assumption made during the design phase was that tanks would either no longer be in service or at least not capable of playing a useful role by the time the A400M was in service. It *can* however carry attack helos, which are seen, effectively, as modern replacements for tanks.

  14. TwatBatter

    30 year wait - for an (air)bus!

    I recall reading about what was then called FIMA (IIRC), basically the same plane, in 1985. ISD of 2015 - 30 years gestation.

    Just as well it is only a bus with wings. How long for a flying Formula 1 car? Oh yeah, Typhoon....! 1979 first studies, 2009 deployed out of UK to Falklands. 30 years-ish again.

    So, what will we need to do in 30 years. Erm..??

    There's a great saying in Texas - 'either crap, or get off the pot'. Airbus/BAES/MoD must have numb arses. And only a modest amount of crap to show for all the effort.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lewis Page by any chance?

    Usual anti-RAF tosh from Lewis Page I see... He'll defend the navy spending until the end though...

    As said by others here, before knocking this get the facts correct. The A400 and C17 have different roles, they are more than just a big tube with wings...

    1. Tom Maddox Silver badge


      Perhaps you've seen his screeds on the Type 45 destroyers or the useless carriers procured by the navy? Oh, sorry, your RAF bias blinds you to anything you don't want to see.

  16. Maurice Shakeshaft

    And why has it desended to this state?

    As the contributors above note, we (Britain!) had good technology and people. Why have many of our Engineers and Scientists gone and to were? Firstly, when Britain stopped developing interesting stuff, they "Brain Drained" to the USA. Then when we stopped building interesting stuff they went to America and Europe. We have niches (like motor racing) but seem destined to lose them as well if we're not careful.

    Why did we stop developing and building? "Oh, our Engineers and Scientist were too exacting and made it too expensive and we were told by our allies not to compete..." and "Foreign Engineers are so much better at designing and building to cost than us....." If these ideas are the excuses used then our Civil servants, Accountants, Bankers and "City" leaders have a great deal to answer for as nether of the sentiments reflect the truth completely or accurately and do a disgraceful dis-service.

    No one in the Political class seems keen to attack and cast out these incompetent wretches because they do not consider it is in their interests to do so. The author is a notable and cogent critic but he has only a little voice, regrettably. Would that others would do a service to British forces, subjects and taxpayers by amplifying his voice.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    re: Unique Feature

    " has been rigged with explosives capable of blasting an escape route open for the crew in the event of disaster. This would of course wreck the plane, but the test pilot - a former RAF Hercules driver, as it happens - and his colleagues would be in the clear."

    Someone better go and make sure it blasts a big enough hole for the crews to crawl out of. Freeman Dyson is the man you want to ask about this. Dyson wrote about the Lancaster's too-small escape hatches, and its effect on aircrew survival in his book "Disturbing the Universe". He attempted (mostly in vain) to have the hatches modified during WWII.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    I know what's wrong.......

    The muppet machine thinks its a sub boat judging by the props. Cost overuns in building the turboprops have mashed the price. The Russians make very good turboprosp (have done for years) why didn't we just licence them in. Quoted lift now 29 Tonnes due to being 12 Tonnes too fat. The Yanks must be laughing their cocks off.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      er, no

      It just shows that we need to drop Europe like a hot, unelected and heavily radioactive rock.

      As for dropping men from a C-17, you can do it and it works nicely but what you can't do is hedge-hop drop. This is something that certain RAF pilots are particularly skilled at (being batshit insane also helps) and some of the Kuwait (yeah, right) drops were barely over 60ft at night under hostile fire. Crap meself? You could say so.

      AC because.... hey look man, I just carried a radio....

  19. nicknack


    So long as the standard pallets fit, just re-engine the existing airframe - or incrementally update the structure.

    Aircraft design is variations on saussage lengths, wing positions and sizes - why do anything more complicated unless there's a *seriously* compelling design reason to change. We have built (civilian/airlift) aircraft the same way since the DC3 (if not before)..what's the point in changing.

    maybe open source flight control software.....

  20. HMTK

    More Europe!

    This shows we need a more integrated Europe where national politics play far less of a role. Away with the various national defense industries and work on a real European scale. For that matter, away with the national military as well. The Yanks enjoy massive advantages because of the scale they work at while the European countries are merely small fry.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I would have thought it would have been much simpler to have bought a few Antonov 124 with their 170 ion load carrying capacity.

    1. Tom Maddox Silver badge

      Not that big

      170 ions is not terribly big, even for atoms high on the atomic scale.

  22. SkippyBing

    C-17 Tactical Airlift

    The C-17 can do tactical airlift, the RAF pilots just miss out that part of the syllabus in the states as it wasn't part of the rental contract, that's why it can taxi backwards under its own power. It can't go everywhere a C-130 can so you have to have them too, but then the A400 probably can't either, still as we'll be operating all three that shouldn't be a problem, we'll be able to pick exactly the right airlifter for any situation....

    As for flying tanks about, generally it's better to send them by sea unless you need them really urgently.

  23. Martin 6 Silver badge

    @And why has it desended to this state?

    Think of it in IT terms.

    Imagine a single company building an OS, by improving on its previous design, adding new features etc = works

    Now imagine one built by a bunch of amateurs just turning up and working on the bits that interest them also works.

    Now imagine writing an OS where the same proportion of lines of code, screen pixels and features have to be written by each country. There is no cost limit and every year 1/3 of the suppliers and customer requirements change as a new party is elected in 1/3 of the countries.

  24. Dave Bell

    The prospect of being hanged...

    ...concentrates the mind wonderfully.

    How many of the wonderful weapons of the past century only came into existence because the engineers, managers, and politicians knew how bad it would be if they didn't get them into service?

    And it's maybe easy to forget all the different types of American transport which were not a huge success. The C-130 and the C-17 are the pick of the crop. There were planes designed in the 1950s we don't remember, not just American. (The Beverley and the Argosy come to mind from British sources, and the Belfast just scrapes in as a 1950s design.)

    One advantage the Americans have had is that their country is big enough for people to want long-range air transport. That's why the DC-3 was there to be turned into the C-47.

    Anyway, the A400M doesn't seem all that much better than the C-141

  25. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    " it wasn't until the USA pulled the 'it will all be done by missiles' line that the government of the day decided to kill off the British aviation industry."

    The day being the mid to late 1950s. The minister (Conservative BTW) was Duncan Sandys. He had comanded an anti-aircraft rocket unit in WWII (solid fuelled, dumb) and seemed to think they were the ultimate.

    I've not read anywhere he was much influenced by the US position, which AFAIK showed no cancellations of major (or minor) projects in this time. this was the era of the XB70 to bomb Moscow @ Mach 3, the B58 Hustler (same job at M2), the U2 and the SR71 (and would have been the Avro 730, which the Skyon spaceplane resembles to a surprising degree).

    Instead of which ol Sandys (also know for the "Headless man" sex scandal, and reputed to have a problem in the keeping it in his pants dept) kneecapped the whole UK aerospace industry. An act so savage that it would seem only a huge bung from the Kremlin (or Lockheed perhaps, who as it turned out had form for this sort of thing) to think it was a brilliant idea.

    The last time I looked the Hercules was on its -j variant (and that was a while ago).

    The bottom line.

    Can a C17 land at kabul airport. That would seem to be about as bad as it can get.

    Would the increaased load be *used* to carry anything or is the A400 right sized for the number of trips (1?) it would be expected to fly.

    What are those workers skilled *at* exactly? Can they be transferred to civilian planes or are they *only* capable of military work (on government time scales at government costs).

    What does UK PLC get for their money by retaining those jobs. Is it design skills or just warm body stuff so the government does not have to preside over another block of redundancies?

  26. Anonymous Coward

    So Lewis...

    just how much does the Pentagon pay you to write these "buy 'merkin" articles. Will you not be happy until you have done more to argue the case for the destruction of British high tech industry than Maggie Thatcher?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Britain, Banking, Fishing

    Probably it is a waste of time, but I will anyway try to educate Mr. Page about the role of finance and real-world industry.

    Most politicians and journalists of all shades like to think solely in monetary terms and have the firm believe that "it's all about money". Consequentially all their talk is plain or coded finance-speak.

    British politicians have been so amazed by the City that they talked themselves into believing the monetarist crap that the financial industry communicates with great intensity. Margaret Thatcher was one of their most tragic victims - she would actually believe in the shitty freedom-for-money-is-only-freedom philosophy and it seems to me she destroyed herself in that process. Same with Ronald Reagan.

    Now that you British destroyed your car industry and your shipbuilding industry, the aircraft and defence industry is next ?

    Surely London will be the most efficient place to finance the North Sea Fishing Industry in ten years time ? Because that is all that is left, now that oil runs out.

  28. dreamingspire


    ...because I know people who work on the A300M. They are embarrassed by the delays and the reasons for them. Its bigger than the C130, but looks like it and performs like it, so maybe we really need it. And it does take forward the development of composite structures for aircraft.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    European National Defence

    Now a serious post: To those who can see through the free-enterprise-fixes-every-problem-bullshit ideology I suggest the following way of thinking:

    U.S. wealth and might rests mainly on military projects developing leading-edge technology that would never have been developed in the commercial world which is so preoccupied with quick return on investment. Even less in the financial world, which is more interested in alchemy and perpetuum mobiles.

    All those huge U.S. government defence projects resulted in a vast array of top-end technology which would one way or the other find its way into the commercial world. Can we imagine things like the Silicon Valley, Hewlett-Packard, Microwave technology, jet airliners and the Transistor without defence projects ? I cannot.

    Consequently, Europe should spend all its defence money on common defense research and development and production projects. All the skills and technology acquired thereby will boost our commercial industry for decades to come. Every aerospace R&D engineer effectively feeds 100 people doing all sorts of boring service, finance, IT and gastronomic jobs.

    It might offend you IT people here, but finance and its IT is more a cancer than a value-creating thing lately. I know this runs directly against the common way of thinking promoted by the finance sector and its prophets in the media and literature, but maybe it is finally time to question their economic model ?

    Even if we start to compare the costs of the C130 or C17 programs with the 20 billion initially projected for the A400M program, this is a true bargain. We Europeans must know how to catch fish on our own, instead of waiting until we are fed by the Americans. But I forgot the epic petty infights of London money against Paris money against Madrid money against Frankfurt money against Turin money, against...... Mr Page is simply playing the idiot for the American Game Of Divide And Conquer.

    I salute EADS for a successful milestone in a project that must make every sensible European proud. Well done, boys and girls !

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Cancer eh

      I love to see this aircraft off the ground without them. Hand drafted using 10x the numbers of design engineers and 20 years later you might get a prototype that would cost 6 X as much. Halarious.

  30. Anonymous Coward


    15 billion euros spent and a resulting product is a shitty plane, inferior to its american and russian/ukrainian counterparts, well done.. oh and it took like 20 years to design/construct..

    1. Anonymous Coward


      and referring to the post above how long without IT given most engineers are shit with pencil and paper. 20 years even later with 10X man power to do all the drafting and maths calculations. Well funny and so adrift from reality. Cancer my arse you have been hanging around with Financial Directors and sales boys too long they think IT is a cash burden and they can't even use the bloody things they moan about.

  31. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    80 tons over 2500 km?

    Pah. An 124-150: 122 tons payload over 5250 km, which is more than 3 times the useful payload.range of the C17 by my book... ah but there is a catch: they're Ukrainian, and the UK forces like their killswitches American.

    Another missing point (and it's valid for the Antonov too): if you know you will never have to lift more than 30 tons at a time, but on short bumpy strips, then maybe the A400 makes more sense than the C-17 (or, indeed, the An124). They are hardly equivalent and (hopefully) aimed at different missions.

  32. sandman

    Always friends?

    From a purely political/military point of view it makes sense to develop your own capabilities. There are no eternal alliances in poitics and today's friends can be tomorrows enemies (well, at least neutrals). I seem to remember not all the US administration being entirely in favour of us retaking the Falklands (Malvinas for any Argentinian readers).

  33. Steve 48
    Paris Hilton

    Six figure payoff?

    "Never mind that, as is usual in these cases, we could almost certainly give every sacked British worker a six- or even seven-figure payoff"

    Someone must have been bottom of the economics class - if we hand a big pile of money over to Uncle Sam for the alternative it won't be floating around our economy, therefore a whole load of taxable transactions won't be occuring and so UK.Gov won't have money to make the payoffs, so even less money runs around and fewer transactions result in less tax so the UK.Gov has to make more cuts, resulting in fewer nauseum all at a time when we are trying to pull out of recession!

    Perhaps we should all club together and buy Lewis a one way ticket to the USofA since he's such a fan!

    Paris 'cos she probably understands more than LP.

    1. Marvin the Martian

      Nice try.

      But no cigar. The military aerospace industry in the UK amount more to handing money over to companies, than keeping a highly skilled tech group on the isle.

      There are no further taxable transactions on sticking with this program and handing cash to the wingmakers --- well, other than keeping expensive and inferior helicopters being made here, with the same rationale. And some other bits and bobs (like overpriced gunboats).

      Getting bottom of economics class is the honourable thing, if apparently you made it to the top by shouting reaganomics like mantras.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Economics out of synch

      Sorry Steve 48 - not quite. If we don't spend the cash on A, we have more money for B,C etc

      Give the people who loose their jobs the cash and they can set up new businesses - it's called creative distruction and it's generally a very good thing that delivers innovation.

      Remember this is OUR money - not magic money the Government just prints. If they do that then they effectively devalue all our cash equally - again it's OUR money flowing away.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Details Of Workshare

    Can be downloaded from

    As I wrote before, this project is essential in strengthening the engineering skills of Europe, which will eventually filter into other industries such as the automotive, railway, chemical, metals and machine tool engineering. The automotive industry is the backbone of the German and French economy and thereby the backbone of european industry in general.

    Finance without real-world businesses is just an empty shell and projects like this ensure that the meat of the european economy stays healthy.

    If you want to see what happens if your country depends solely on U.S. weapons imports, look at Poland and the baltic states. They can barely afford about 50 F16s and some Mig29s - they are currently scared to hell by Russia. I bet the Polish would be happy if they just had the ability to build their own Tornado fighters. But even the best printing press and the smartest bankers don't build a single airplane.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon

      I like traffic lights

      "Tornado fighters"


  35. Anonymous Coward

    Carbon Wings and more

    Considering that the British Workshare entails the latest in aerospace materials, it is sad to see such negative comments here:

    These materials save 20 percent fuel consumption on the A400M as compared to full-metal wings. Probably this material will play a key role in the next generation of Airbus, BAE and EADS wings and fuselages.

    Also, the car and railway industry will surely benefit from this strong and light materials. Saving weight also means saving fuel consumption in the automotive industry. Many other applications could benefit, including (motor-)bikes, satellites and rockets, bridges, maybe even mundane things like ladders for the fire brigade. So this project clearly is worth the money spent, as part of industrial policy in general, if we are to stay relevant as compared to China, India, the U.S. and Brazil.

    Surely the most powerful turboprop engine of the West will boost all kinds of technologies and manufacturing processes, especially in high-temperature materials. Also, the engine control software was very complex and will give european engineers critical exposure to creating leading edge systems.

    Having this toolbox of technologies inside EADS and BAE will enable us to also create a transport craft that can easily outdo the C17 on all parameters. It would just be unrealistic to expect the first transport aircraft made by Airbus/ÈADS to beat the much bigger U.S. programs in terms of absolute performance. But as we demonstrated with the A380 we can eventually surpass the big U.S. companies. Just put 6 RR Trent 900 on a the next and bigger version of the A400M and that will let the Russian and U.S. planes look like midgets.

    The key to this is to stop thinking in national egoisms and think of Europe as a common political and military entity. The best thing would be a European Airlift Command that provides airlift services to all of Europe's armed forces just like the U.S. Military Airlift Command.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Trick is to not bother

      as we don't all share the same currency nor speak the same language or have the same cultural things to bind us together - unlike the USA. We are never going to be a US of Europe as there is too much vested self interest in our indvidual populations. In USA this plane wopuld have been built in one place saving a packet by not building bits, flying them in and assembling elseware. Econonmic disaster.

  36. chuck kukura


    It's great to see the great UK isn't so good or smart at stuff sometimes, either.

    Reminds me of a recent post on the reg about an american stealth figher losing to..what was it?

    And oh, the ribbing us U.S. folks took....even though that story was misquoted. ;)

    Love you Brits...can't wait to hear more about how us yanks are so religiously uneducated, pornographically inept, our health care system that should be free for all of our citizens, how our military is too expensive, our conservativism is nauseum.

    Also remember...most of us in the U.S. love our brit counterparts on the other side of the pond....don't take my light pokes as an attack...what goes around, comes around. :)

    Now it's your turn for the fun. :)

    Poke away!

  37. SkippyBing

    @ joeuro

    Although developing European industry is obviously a good thing, especially if it's industries you've previously killed off, the Americans seem to have a system that doesn't result in the taxpayer getting quite as screwed over.

    The European system seems to work on asking the one manufacturer to develop the exciting new plaything and them then taking an age to produce it, and constantly going further and further over budget. The US system tends to work by asking a number of companies to produce bids which may go as far as having flying prototypes of the final two. If we'd done that for the A400 programme EADS wouldn't be in the game as they would have missed the deadline, admittedly the upfront costs are a bit higher as you have to fund a couple of aircraft, but then you should uncover any potential show stoppers before you're committed.

  38. jvs
    Thumb Up

    Turboprop == Tactical

    The A400M is a top-notch performer on landing, survivability & speed:

    The Jet engines of the C17 may draw in to them:

    stones in the desert,

    Flora & Fauna in Africa

    and SAM in the front angle.

    Not so Turboprops.

    For a Very-Wide-body straight-wings turboprop configuration,

    the A400M holds a cruise-speed record of 780kmh, much better than the C130J,

    slightly above the 770kmh of the Narrow-body, swept-wing

    though 40% heavier and 30% more powerful Tu-114m

    which is equipped with very-noisy contra-rotating propellers(for each engine).

    6% under the C17 (Jet) @ 830kmh

    15% under the slender-slim Tu-95 turboprop bomber @ 920kmh

  39. Anonymous Coward

    A400M manufacturing video

    If you want to know what makes the difference between the Third World and Europe, look at this film:

    The economic power of Europe and America comes from the black magic that makes complex systems like the A400M possible. The arab world has a large number of traders and beancounters, so if "free enterprise" were the main source of our wealth, Cairo should be the center of the world's economy. Nope, it's engineers and technicians making machines that have unique capabilities that ultimately make us so wealthy - whatever the "thought leaders" at the Financial Times, NY Times or The Economist claim.

    Financial trickery only works a certain amount of time and then everybody realizes the emperor is without clothes.

  40. Chris the cynic

    A forgotten factor

    As a former airlifter (US C-130) I would add one factor to the above discussion. If you operate a tactical airlifter in remote unimproved airports in wartime you're going to lose airplanes. Maybe quite a few of them; they had better be relatively inexpensive. The A4400M is certainly not.

  41. bexley

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    Dear The Register,

    Please dont follow the tabloids into the shameful world of sensationalism and ignoring the fact's that get in the way of a good ol blamed filled story.

    For one, I am very happy that the MOD do not just focus on ongoing operations. They have to plan for every eventuality. It's all very well equipping your forces to fight only in the middle east and Asia but what happens when a conflict occurs somewhere else?.

    It is simply irresponsible to judge the MOD unfairly and negativity because every single procurement does not fit the exact requirements of the war in the Afghanistan. I use the term War for want of a better word, War implies that it can be won.

    It is the MOD's responsibility to consider what has been, what is happening now and what might happen in the future while considering new equipment.

    The lead time's on military hardwareare absurd i agree, but there is little competition. If the MOD were to say, right, we like Aircraft A and Aircraft B, the first one to get it ready for operations in the next 8 years including operational testing to ensure that quality is up to standard (an arbitrary but reasonable time frame) get's the contract. Now off you go.

    You wait and see how quick these aircraft get developed then.

    The comments somebody made about the Navy not be able to defend it's self during the Falklands are correct.

    Wow, it is pure chance that our carriers were not sunk by Exocet, pure chance. They were fired at the Carrirer but hit Gallahd instead killing 50 Welsh Guards injuring 50 more.

    The problem i have with that statement is that we were not fighting a 3rd world airforce, they had pretty much the same era of technology as us, The very latest French built Exocet anti shipping missile, Mirage etc...

    Credit to the RN for shooting so many of them down (83 aircraft destroyed) but we lost 5 ship's, an awful lot of hardware along with them including 5 Chinooks hundreds of casualties. In fact the Argies inflicted more damage on us from a hardware resources point of view than we did on them. Only thanks to the Argentine's incredibly poor judgment and intelligence coupled with some good old British steel and elbow grease did we win that war.

    Anyway, to the Register - can you please go back to writing factual, interesting and thought provoking articles instead of sensationalist, opinionated tabloid'esq rubbish and is a waste of your time and ours. This is what The Sun is for.

    I have heard you fip flop between "buy it from the Americans, they already have cheaper and better ones available" to " our dependence on the American tech blah blah blah".

    Come on will you, i'm sure you didnt start writing for a living to generate mindless rubbish just to get paid, grow a spine and write an article you can be proud of :-)

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "the Americans seem to have a system that doesn't result in the taxpayer getting quite as screwed over."

    Really ? They spend more than 400 billon dollars per year on denfence. Germany spends about 50 billion euros and the other big euro countries roughly the same. We are doing defence on the cheap here.

    "... taking an age to produce it, ... over budget.....missed the deadline, "

    You really sound like a beancounter. This is a strategic project for our defence and technology capabilities and other beancounters could easily "prove" that it pays of hugely in terms of security and in terms of revenue made by all the new tech. Over the next three decades or so. The A400M is not just the next version of a shitty insurance software, but a 20 billion Euro engineering project that creates much more than just some funny IT system.

    Also, I would dispute U.S. companies are any better when it comes to cost control and project execution. Just look at the F22 and F35 cost escalations and delays. Also, there were a large number of cancelled projects in America, which is no big thing in the history of engineering, by the way. Boeing's 787 project is now three years late, even though it is "only" a commercial airliner. Defence projects are extremely difficult, because dozens of new materials and technologies are typically involved.

    That said, we surely can learn from this project what to do better next time. My feeling is that these multi-purpose systems like the Tornado and the A400M make things unneccessarily complex. Having a smaller list of objectives would definitely make it easier to reach milestones more timely.

    What we have to keep in mind is that the U.S. government spent hundreds of billions on large aircraft (B52, B58, B1, B2, KC135, KC10, RC135, F111, C141, C17, C5 are just some prominent examples) and we seriously think that we can outdo them "on the first shot" with a meager 20 billion euros ? Come on, your grandma won't believe this !

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Now that this transport craft flies, I want more. My wish list includes

    * A400M-AEW - An airborne early warning version (aka "AWACS"). This would probably look optically similar to the new Chinese AEW aircraft.

    * A400M-ES - A pan-european electronic/signals intelligence plane that would replace aging aircraft like the Breguet Atlantique and the Nimrod. Currently Europe buys too many key electronic components from the U.S. with all the negative consequences of that. Germany just bought the Global Hawk UAV for Sigint. That must change.

    * A400M-GR - A Radar aircraft for ground surveillance, similar to JSTARS.

    The A400M's excellent fuel efficiency directly translates in long loitering time, which is critical for these applications. A400M buddy refueling would be used for very long-time operations.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    joeuro, it's all very well spouting on about the engineering developments and technology involved in the A400M, but there comes a point where we have to accept the fact we can't afford it, not right now. Perhaps in 10 years.

    Whilst we major economies of the west can not afford it, you can be sure that the economies of the east can not. Your suggestion we need to stay ahead is flawed in this respect.

    The simple question is, can we live without the A400M, are there other ways to give us the lift capability and the answer is yes.

    I am an engineer by profession so whilst I would love us to develop the technology, we have to consider the cost of and the benefit of it.

    Given the complete mess the UK economy is in thanks to Gordon Brown, our country can not afford luxuries of any kind at the current time.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Don't think the C130 is old, it is, but the new variant, the C130J currently in operational service with the RAF is a great aircraft. It's almost a different aircraft. It has a fantastic avionics packs, digital engine control systems, better fuel efficiency, greater payload, greater range and it's brand new, not some 30 year old airframe. So any suggestion the C130 is old is a falsehood. Some C130 variants, some particular models of aircraft are, but the C130J is not.

  46. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Europes C5 Galaxy

    The C5 was also desinged as a long haul heavy lifter. It took a very long time to develop and had weight and manufacturing issues. Ironcally a key objective was that it was designed to land big loads near the front line (hence its complex weight spreading undercarriage design)

    When deployed it turned out that it was too expensive and procured in too small a number to risk loosing one.

    Regarding carbon fibres use outside the miltary. How well has that worked exactly? Bearing in mind some facts.

    Its made by burning precursor carbon materials in a *very* controlled way at temperatures int he 1000s of C. The raw fibre is then coated in some complex organic sizes then embedded in some complex organic resins.

    Not sounding exaclty carbon neutral, is it?

    Unless you have a *very* good understanding of what directions stresses will come in either your layoup will be sub optimal (heavier than needed) or you will have to add patches to build up the structure (adding weight). I wonder if this is part of the 12 tonne performance shortfall.

    Impact testing by NASA showed it was possible for compsite structures to loose 30% of their strength*without* visible signs of damage.

    So plenty of opportunities to sell follow on maintenance and repair work contracts.

    And of course there are the little issues of static electricity in dry, hot climates or lighting.

    Automated layup may have lowered the mfg costs some but the fact you have to do layoup in the first place is the problem. It's too time consuming for high volume production for things like car and train bodies. OTOH Friction stir welding of aluminium and steel train and ship bodies is already in farily common use across Europe. Magnesium castings allow multiple original parts to become 1 single casting may ultimately be more valuable in production terms.

  47. Anonymous Coward

    @John Smith 19

    Indeed new technologies typically have new problems. The first jet engines surely were less reliable than the piston engines of that time. Nevertheless, our wealth clearly depends on technology, as we need some kind of "black magic product" as an exchange for oil, ore, wood, cacao and lots of other raw materials from other continents. So the "technology pipeline" must be sustained if we want to preserve our wealth.

    And even if we find out that metal wings are indeed more economical, this project was worth trying out, as the weight savings of carbon are significant. One can argue all the time about the details of such projects, but I think it indisputable that our wealth ultimately depends on such big R&D efforts. Eastern Europe is exactly in such a dire state because they believed in the free-enterprise-fixes-everything kool-aid that they could read in those english-language newspapers.

    If you need to find the money for the A400M, just cut all NHS wages by 20 percent and get a handle on the City Bankers. The latter are the source of the current crisis and they absolutely don't know how to fix it. I guess you need a Tory government to do that, though. Social democrats believe in money, at the core of their heart, so they are clearly unable to think non-monetarily.

  48. Anonymous Coward

    Airbus Military Web Site Upgraded, Air Tanker capability

    Now they have a much better web presentation with lots of videos, images and information online:

    Another strong argument for the A400M is the versatility. It is not just a tactical STOL lifter like the C130, but can also do refueling of Eurofighter and other fast and slow aircraft and helicopters. All very economical, because it is a turboprop and at a quite long range and nearly as fast OPTEMPO as a jet tanker.

    It could even be argued that the A400M has a very unique ability to refuel fighters on the front line from oil reservois that have only a short, improvised airstrip. This double capability makes this aircraft a very valuable resource for european air forces and armies.

    The C130 is very slow and considerably smaller in this respect.

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