Airbus DS/Military in Spain
Vayu’s UK Editor, Richard Gardner reports from Seville, Spain, as Airbus Defence and Space presents its annual Trade Media Briefing (TMB’15)
They say “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” and even as delegates arrived from around the world to attend the annual Airbus Defence and Space ( Airbus DS) Trade Media Briefing at Seville, this reputation was easy to understand as the skies were storm-filled and it was extremely wet at the Headquarters of what was formerly known as Airbus Military. But whereas previous annual briefings had also reflected stormy prospects for the company’s latest product, the A400M Atlas transport, this time the atmosphere was noticeably more upbeat.
The 2015 briefing was due to take place earlier in the year, but had to be cancelled at the last moment owing to a fatal accident in May involving an A400M making its first flight after completion. The report into the cause is due to be released before the end of 2015, but the problem was soon identified and rectified and now every effort is being made to get the programme back on schedule, with deliveries steadily building up, as visitors were able to see for themselves in October. There have also been significant management changes within the group and this is part of the major reassurance campaign that has been launched to pacify customers waiting for delayed deliveries and expecting improved quality control.
Military aircraft chief salesman, Antonio Rodriguez Barberan, provided an initial overview of the military product line, which was wider in scope than many may realise. It extends beyond the main Seville products, the A400M and C295 and CN235 transports, to Eurofighter, the A330 MRTT, UAV developments and extensive military upgrade and sustainment support services. According to Antonio, the company’s aim was to be present in most military market segments and to be number one or two in each segment. A tall order maybe, but Airbus was already well on its way to achieving this in terms of supplying military transports and air tankers. The company’s worldwide presence included 1,800 aircraft sold to 70 countries, with 145 operators an over 5 million flight hours accumulated. He added that an ever growing global footprint was making the products more supportable, and India was identified as one of the countries for future developments.
Achievements in the past year: The A400M is now operational with five air forces (France, UK, Germany, Turkey and Malaysia) and presentations have been made to nine more potential customers, with what are described as “serious negotiations underway”. The first aircraft for Spain are also in final assembly. Its light and medium aircraft have achieved 28 new orders in 2014, including for four new customers. So far in 2015, 15 more orders have been added. Airbus expects to maintain its market share in this category of 75% long term. In addition to the primary transport role of the C295 and CN235, these types are being continuously developed to cover other tasks including search and rescue, maritime surveillance, marine pollution Control, Anti- submarine and surface warfare and aerial photography. New roles being developed include ISTAR/ EW, Signals Intelligence, fire- fighting, Airborne Early Warning and the gunship fire-support role. Another growing niche market for these aircraft is government and State VIP transport. The combined C295 and CN235 market penetration is around 60%. The biggest regional market is Asia Pacific with 140 sales, Africa and the Middle East have ordered 130 aircraft, Europe 105, and the Americas have ordered 100 aircraft. Selection of the A330 MRTT has continued the pattern of attracting new customers to what is the undoubted market leader in the large tanker/transport market. Recent orders include two for Qatar, and three for a joint NATO MRTT group comprising the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Luxembourg. France is to buy twelve, and South Korea has ordered four.
India has announced its selection of the type. To date there are now 26 A330 MRTTs in service. Eurofighter continues to offer upgraded Typhoons with AESA radar and other improvements. The latest customer to select the fighter is Kuwait, which is expected to buy 28. Work continues on a proposal for a new joint European MALE UAV definition
phase. Other upgrade programmes include improved Tornados for Saudi Arabia and P-3s for the German Navy.
An updated review of the C295 and CN235 programmes was given by Fernando Ciria, Head of Marketing for Light and Medium Transport and ISR programmes. He started by highlighting the fact that the C295 was the best- selling military aircraft in its category. Over 160 aircraft had been sold to 23 operators in 22 countries. Eleven of these were repeat orders. The new C295W features enhanced engine performance and has winglets. These improvements give an 8% increase in range (out to 2,300 nm with a 4 ton load). The winglets provide an aerodynamic gain that translates into a 5.5% fuel advantage on a typical mission. The engine mode upgrade also allows a larger payload from hot and high airfields – 7.85 tons at 500 nm from an altitude of 6,000ft. The first flight of the C295W development aircraft took place on 11 April 2014 and has now been certified. The first delivery took place in April 2014 to the Mexican Navy.
Efforts to further expand applications for this versatile platform have included modifications to allow a fire- fighting role and a version for Special Forces as a transport or a fire- support gunship. The capacious cabin of the C295 allows room for extensive mission systems and displays so that the aircraft can act as a Signals Intelligence or Ground Surveillance platform, with specialist sensors and multiple target tracking radar, including communications intercept and jamming equipment. Modifications to give the C295 more weapons capability in the Maritime Patrol (MPA) and anti-submarine (ASW) roles is being undertaken so that air-launched homing torpedoes and air-to surface missiles can be carried. The larger C295 and CN235 can both be given a costeffective MPA or SAR role as they feature high levels of manoeuvrability at low level above the sea surface, combined with an endurance of up to 11 hours.
The US Coast Guard uses a large fleet of CN235s for law enforcement, border patrols, and para-rescue operations. Special large size bubble windows give excellent visual coverage for crew members, while electro-optical video cameras, including infra- red, allow all- weather and night operations. During the author’s visit, a well-equipped Omani C295 MPA/ASW aircraft was present on the flight line
undertaking various ground tests. The latest generation FITS mission system is incorporated. Palletised ISR mission systems can be provided to that the aircraft can be used for transport duties when not required for ISR or MPA duties. If required to provide electronic surveillance and order of battle generation, with onboard ELINT/COMINT analysis or electronic countermeasures this can also be supplied in a very compact package that also has the advantage of being able to operate from short runways almost anywhere, not restricted to international airports. Israel’s ELTA has supplied a 4th Generation AESA radar which has been trialled atop a C295 in an aerodynamic rotating dome for the detection of multiple small and fast targets, giving 360 degree coverage.
For Ground Surveillance tasks, the C295 can carry high resolution SAR/ GMTI radar arrays and an EO/IR target designation turret, ESM, ELINT and COMINT. It would seem that Airbus is keen to exploit every possible combination of ISR and EW mission roles that can carried aboard its C295 and CN235 aircraft. At the briefing it also suggested that close air support for Special Forces was an ideal role for the C295, which could deploy parachutists and supplies and also carry underwing weapons and stores. In collaboration with ATK the gunship role was another capability as previously mentioned. But its future planning is already looking beyond the C295 platform. The company showed an image of an A330 fitted with a top-mounted rotating radome which might become a replacement for the current generation of Boeing E-3Ds, in widespread use around the world, but many of which are over 40 years old. Such an A330 AEW&C platform would offer even more on-board volume for electronic equipment, environmental control, electrical generation and distribution systems, crew rest areas and additional operational ISR/EW tasking potential, with extremely long range and/ or endurance on station, and high transit speed. However, the future vision for Airbus DS didn’t end there. The company briefing also included images of a military configured A320 platform (which could presumably also be sized as an A319 or A321, depending on customer need) which could have a ground surveillance, EW or maritime patrol role, and could become a European rival to Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon.
Antonio Caramazana is Head of the MRTT programme and gave a more detailed update on progress during the previous twelve months. He said that the A330 tanker transport had been very active on military operations. This included The RAF’s Operation Shader in the Middle East in support of Tornado operations against ISIL targets, and also helping refuel other coalition aircraft. Twelve aircraft were in service. The aircraft was also in service with the Royal Australian Air Force (5 aircraft) with a detachment based in the Middle East. Royal Saudi Air Force MRTTs were involved in tanking support operations for combat air strikes against targets in the Yemen. The RSAF now has six in service. The UAE has three and some of these have also been used in operations over Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Most of these operations have involved air-to-air refuelling missions, but the aircraft have also been used, particularly by the RAF for overseas deployments carrying up to 200 troops, and for supporting combat aircraft deployments carrying equipment and ground personnel.
During the year the refuelling boom functionality has been released allowing full use of the Airbus developed controlby- wire boom to refuel USAF combat aircraft, such as the F- 15 and F- 16, as well as larger types such as other MMRTs and Boeing Wedgetails. The MRTT has also be cleared to refuel combat fighters using the FRU drogue and probe method including the Typhoon, Tornado, Mirage, Rafale, F-18 Hornet and Super Hornet and AV-8B Harrier. Night refuelling can now be undertaken on all these types and clearance trails were successfully undertaken at Edwards AFB and Patuxant River in the USA for additional US types including the EA- 6B, A- 10 and B-1B. This included the first MRTT wet boom refuelling of the F-35A by RAAF MRTTs. In the UK, expansion of the FRU refuelling functionality included clearance of refuelling trials with two different types of C-130J, the E-3D Sentry, and A400Ms. Worldwide medical evacuation flights have been flown and the RAF has carried over 500,000 passengers aboard its MRTT Voyagers so far. Some 56,400 flight hours have been flown by the type in service. A series of enhancements is now being applied to new MRTT deliveries. The initial customers will be Singapore, France and Korea for delivery from 2018. This performance improvement package has been triggered by new increased weight capability resulting from the standard upgrade of the basic A330 which has structural and aerodynamic improvements. Inside the aircraft, there will also be new computer displays associated with an avionics upgrade. Adjustments to the military systems fitted in the MRTT include improvements to the industrialisation process with more standardisation of electrical and mechanical solutions. It is clear that the MRTT has now
settled down to being a very capable and mature military air asset, and the clear leader in its field, offering more usable cabin space and fuel off-load capacity, endurance and a more modern airframe than its nearest rival.
It then delved to Joey Borkenstein, Senior Advisor Air Combat Operations, to provide an update on the Eurofighter programme. A steady programme of upgrades continues to roll forward, though this has proceeded at a slower pace than originally intended as a result of various spending cuts and delays across the defence budgets of the main European partner nations. Keeping the momentum going on these upgrade packages has not been an easy task as some customers have been slower to respond as they have not been so actively engaged in combat operations as others, who have long recognised the need to adopt progressively better avionics, radar and weapons systems. However, the first four upgrade packages are identified and are being implemented over the next five years, with others following out to at least 2030, ensuring the Typhoon has a long operational future ahead of it. One of the most immediate upgrades is the clearance of new missiles. The first of these will be the Storm Shadow/Taurus, which is a very long-range stand-off weapon for use against well defended key targets. The Storm Shadow is battle proven aboard Tornado and combines low observability with high precision. It is to be delivered for service on Typhoon by 2017. The MBDA Meteor is intended as an air dominance long range air-to-air missile with a two way data-link and has an unprecedented No Escape Zone. This is also due to be cleared over the next year. The next enhancements cover the carriage of the latest Paveway IV precision bombs. Available in 500lbs and 1000lbs versions, the weapon has laser guidance, GPS/ INS guidance and Typhoon can be configured to carry up to six while retaining its full air defence role. The third new missile, being pushed as a priority by the UK is the clearance for Brimstone II attack missiles. These have been developed from the standard Bristone, which has a proven combat record over Afghanistan and Iraq, and features a dual mode high accuracy seeker with a very good performance against small moving targets. It has all-weather day or night capability and is very compact so up to twelve can be carried on four triple launch mountings, without compromising AAR missile capability. The most anxiously awaited upgrade remains the adoption for Typhoon of the Captor- E AESA radar from Selex. This features the biggest “field of regard” for any AESA of its type, thanks to its mounting on a moveable rather than a fixed plate. This wide angle capability allows even more multiple targets to be identified, tracked and addressed, with multiple uses, from air-to-air interception to sea search and surface strike. It has a high resistance to jamming and can operate with various active and passive detection options. Other developments include an upgraded defensive aids suite with a more powerful jamming capability and passive geolocation.
During the last year Eurofighter Typhoon operations have continued at a high pace with some operators, notably the UK and Saudi Arabia, where they have been in daily combat in the Middle East. Increasing surveillance “probe” missions by Russian long-range reconnaissance aircraft have resulted in round-the-clock intercept scramble missions to escort the interlopers away from national and NATO air regions from Norway to Turkey. Continuous deployments of NATO Typhoon squadrons to the independent Baltic States have provided additional reassurance of NATO support at a time when these former Soviet Union states have felt threatened by the situation in the Ukraine and Crimea.
But it was the flight test programme for the A400M Atlas which was to form a major part of the update briefing at Seville. Since the last Trade Media Briefing the A400M flying totals have risen to 7,903 hours on 2,901 flights. Particular achievements during 2015 have included many important way points including: the first flight refuelling receiver trials from an A330 MRTT, and fuel delivery to two F- 18 fighters, two- ton load extraction using parachutes, DASS (Defensive Aids Sub-System) and RWR self-defence tests, paratroop deployment trials and off-runway surface tests. Associated with low- level flights was certification of an enhanced vision system with night vision goggles. Certification of low level free-flight down to 150ft was achieved in late 2014, with height down to 500ft using NVGs. Infrared sensors and flare systems were also tested under many different conditions and included full flare jettison. The A400M has a very extensive DASS system, which includes radar warning receivers and other systems, some of which are customer specific. During the period of the media visit several RAF A400Ms had returned to Spain for fitting and integration of the UK’s DASS system.
Various dynamic air drop tests have taken place with live jumps carried out. These tests confirmed that there are issues involved in using the two rear side doors for troop air drops. The turbulence from the powerful engines causes cross-over problems which can bring departing paratroops into contact
with each other after exit, so measures are in hand to find and evaluate a solution. A test aircraft is being fitted with a spoiler which ‘it is hoped’ may solve the problem, but tests will continue into 2016 using full-size representative dummy troopers. Free-fall jumps from the cargo ramp door have been certified for departures of up to 29 jumpers at a time. Sticks of 12 jumpers can be despatched from the rear ramp. Further tests in early 2016 include despatch of two x 58 paratroops in one stick and high altitude paratroop drops. Heavy cargo drops of loads of up to 4 tons have been certified for gravity and parachute extraction. Total loads of 12 tons have been despatched using three platforms carrying 4 ton loads each. The art and science of air delivery is a complex one, especially involving such an automated fly-by-wire aircraft and the tests have included despatching different size loads from different positions on the cabin floor and rear cargo door. The capability will be expanded so that 25 ton loads can be despatched in safety. Every aspect of the despatch trials has been carefully recorded and the final standard of clearance will allow the aircraft to fully undertake the tactical transport as well as strategic transport roles. Further tests in September and October 2015 have included landings and take-offs from grass runways and soil surfaces. The third stage in these tactical op tests involves further operations from sand surfaces. The landing gear of the A400M incorporates the first certification of technology based on micro-strain measurement to indicate to the pilots that the gear has functioned correctly and wheels are on the ground or in flight. The traditional system based on proximity sensors has been changed by a calibrated pin (strain measurement) design. Due to the aircraft’s landing gear configuration this new system has significantly improved the landing run performances on low friction surfaces.
During 2016 additional capability will include Polar area navigation, automatic aerial delivery of parachutists via static line and refuelling other aircraft from wingmounted HDUs. The intended capability for aerial refuelling of helicopters by the A400M has been dropped for the present. Tests have led to the conclusion that this problem is not easily solved without an unacceptably extensive modification of the HDU design, which performs very well for all fixed-wing AAR requirements, meeting the majority of operational needs.
The briefing contained much more information on various technical projects that reflect a very active continuous improvement policy. The company is keen to simplify the manoeuvres involved in trying to get the maximum feasible automation in reaching important improvements in operational and safety aspects of aerial refuelling. These improvements are aimed to save time, costs and reduce risks. Currently undergoing feasibility studies the follow up step would be to move to a proof of concept in a flight test environment to validate the techniques.
But, this is another story!