A Tactical airlifter, finally

SHAH ALAM: After waiting for almost 11 years, RMAF is finally getting the A400M it had signed for back in 2005. The fourth RMAF A400M – M54-04 – will be delivered with an increased set of tactical capabilities compared to the ones already available on the previously delivered aircraft.

In this configuration, the aircraft will be fitted with defensive aid sub-system (DASS), air-to-air refueling (receiving and providing fuel) and the ability to deliver up to 25 tonnes of cargo.

RMAF A400M M54-01 landing at Subang airport after performing a flypast on 2015 Merdeka Day
RMAF A400M M54-01 landing at Subang airport after performing a flypast on 2015 Merdeka Day

However RMAF will not conduct AAR missions as it is not among the capabilities specified for its A400M fleet.

Airbus Defence and Space Head of Military Aircraft, Fernando Alonso said that all three aircraft previous;y delivered – M54-01, M54-02 and M54-03 – will be progressively retrofitted to the latest configuration. He was speaking at Munich on June 20.

M54-02 flew invited guests and the media to Kuantan airbase for the 58th anniversary parade on June 1.
M54-02 flew invited guests and the media to Kuantan airbase for the 58th anniversary parade on June 1.

Further upgrades in the tactical configuration are currently moving towards certification and will fulfill the requirements set out by the 7 founding nations of the programme.

Alonso also said that Airbus was confident that they would be able to solve the technical issues of the A400M – namely the issue with the pinion gear box (PGB) in the engines and an issue with a specific aluminum alloys material in the centre fuselage.

M54-03 on finals at Subang following its ferry flight on June 13.
M54-03 on finals at Subang following its ferry flight on June 13.

An interim fix for the PGB issue should be available by September at the latest, while the aluminum alloy material affected has a repair solution and will be replaced by a more traditional one sometime next year.

M54-02 in its hangar.
M54-02 in its hangar.

Alonso however stressed the issues are “not affecting the safety” of the A400Ms.

M54-03 accorded the traditional welcome as it taxi into Subang airbase. Air Times picture
M54-03 accorded the traditional welcome as it taxi into Subang airbase. Air Times picture

These technical issues have impacted the A400M delivery schedule.It is for this reason Alonso was unable to say exactly when the fourth RMAF will be delivered. The delivery schedule is currently under discussion with the different nations and the European agency handling the procurement of the A400M, OCCAR.

An A400M conducting refueling for an F/A-18. Airbus DS picture.
An A400M conducting refueling for an F/A-18. Airbus DS picture.

He also confirmed that a new phase of flight-testing to address the helicopter AAR issue will take place towards the end of this year. Although the air-lifter had been cleared to refuel fixed wing aircraft, it had not been cleared for helicopters. This was mostly due to strong airflow behind the powerful engines and the need to position the helicopters to be refueled at a safer distance behind the A400M. A solution is currently being worked on.

Airbus tests showed that for helicopter refueling to take place, they simply need a longer hose, about 37 metres long compared to the standard hose of around 20 metres. To fit the longer hose on the current refueling pod, the hose has been made smaller, which might result in a longer refueling time, however.

Certification for AAR for helicopter is expected by year end. Again this will not affect RMAF as its A400Ms will not be conducting AAR missions.

Furthermore its EC-725s are not fitted with refueling probes. It’s fitted for but the probes had not been paid for.

— Malaysian Defence.

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