If all goes according to plan, the first of seven new A400M transport aircraft will be put into service at the Melsbroek military airport in May 2020. This new Airbus multi-purpose transport aircraft will provide Belgian military aviation with a new face. Many units, including the Special Operations Regiment (SOR) in particular, will see this mastodon closely during their operations.
The Minister of Defense, Didier Reynders, as well as a delegation of Belgian and Luxembourg military had a first impression of our new aircraft during a visit to Airbus, the manufacturer, at Seville, Spain. The commander of the SOR, Colonel Vincent Descheemaeker, was also on this trip to the south of Spain. His troops will regularly use the A400M.
"This is a brand-new capability," said Descheemaeker. "The A400M has more range than its predecessor, the C-130. This is why it can perform both tactical and strategic missions. We will be able to deploy our troops farther and be faster on the spot. With a range of 8,700 to 8,800 km, it will be possible to fly directly to distant conflict zones.”
The larger loading area is also convenient in terms of personnel for the SOR. Indeed, the A400M can accommodate 116 fully equipped para-commandos. But as they are used to jumping from the C-130, a new way of working is now required.
"Tests have already been done to evaluate drops," said Descheemaeker. "These are not the responsibility of Airbus but under the responsibility of the countries that will use this device. We are working to do this with, among others, the French, the Germans and the British."
The A400M is ideal for airborne operations. It's hand-made for the SOR. Special Forces Group jumps at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) or cargo drops (humanitarian) at 15 feet (4.57 meters) are all part of the range of tasks assigned to the SOR.
Colonel Descheemaeker is also looking to the future. "With tests and regulations, we still have some work to do. The A400M has much more electronics. We will also have to determine the balance points of the plane so that our vehicles in the cargo hold do not affect it. The method of parachuting troops will also change. These are some aspects in which we will need to refine our expertise. The first step has been taken and we need to move forward. We will make the A400M an operational and engaging tool."
The SOR hopes to complete its first missions with the A400M by the end of 2021.