The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has negotiated a £410 million contract that will secure at least 400 highly-skilled British jobs and provide in-service support for the UK’s Atlas A400M aircraft, securing a key part of the RAF airlift fleet until 2026.
The A400M is the latest addition to the RAF’s tactical airlifter capability and can carry up to 37 tonnes of payload over a range of 2,000 nautical miles. It is able to deploy troops and equipment between and within theatres of operation either by parachute or by landing on short, potentially unprepared airstrips.
Atlas can also carry armoured vehicles, allowing a deploying force to arrive ready to fight. For humanitarian roles, it is capable of deploying mobile cranes, excavators and large dump trucks for disaster relief operations– for example clearing earthquake sites.
The in-service support contract will sustain around 200 UK jobs with Airbus Defence and Space, focused around RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. More widely, the Atlas programme has a far-reaching UK supply chain, with around 200 additional jobs sustained at companies in: Gloucestershire, Somerset and Sussex, including Messier Dowty in Gloucester, and Thales in Crawley and GKN and Rolls Royce in and around Bristol.
Air Marshal Julian Young, Chief of Materiel (Air) at the MOD’s Defence Equipment & Support organisation said:
“The A400M Atlas will form the backbone of the Royal Air Force’s Strategic and Tactical Air Transport capability over the next decade and beyond.
“This key contract will deliver maintenance for our A400M Atlas fleet, enabling this class-leading aircraft to support UK military operations around the globe.”
The RAF currently has 14 Atlas aircraft in service, with the planned fleet of 22 scheduled to enter service by 2019.
The contract with Airbus will pay for maintenance, upgrade and repair of the UK’s entire fleet of Atlas transport planes into the next decade.
The new deal draws on a separate two-year Global Support Contract worth £63 million that has also just been agreed with France and Spain, which will provide common support and spares services, and is the first step towards a 6-Nation Global Support arrangement. (Emphasis added—Ed.)
Chief Executive Officer for the UK’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, Tony Douglas, said:
“The UK’s future armed forces will be prepared to respond quickly to global developments and the delivery of next-generation aircraft such as Atlas is vital to the fulfilment of this vision.
“As part of the wider Atlas programme, this new support contract draws on multinational cooperation and the strong relationships across UK Defence that are delivering this remarkable aircraft to the RAF.”
The new contracts come after the delivery of important training systems to the RAF, including two cockpit simulators and a cargo hold trainer. The new training equipment at RAF Brize Norton has a combined value of £141 million and is supported through a pre-existing service support contract worth £226 million. The second of two flight simulators and a cargo hold trainer were delivered earlier in 2016 and the facilities will provide training activities for up to 60 flight crews, and 60 maintenance personnel a year.
Elsewhere on site, a new, innovative hangar facility worth around £62 million is on schedule to be fully fitted-out by early 2017. This huge building is capable of housing three Atlas aircraft during maintenance periods.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: While the £410 million to operate the aircraft for ten years is a substantial amount, it is encouraging that the A400M countries are making progress towards the Six-National Global Support agreement which should provide further savings as well as faster support and improved availability.
It is disturbing, however, to see the Ministry of Defence increasingly stress the jobs aspects of defense contracts as a prelude to other considerations.
However desirable, especially in the current economic context, defense spending is not a jobs program, and jobs should be a welcome by-product of defense contracts, but not the prime motivation.)