A Tactical airlifter, finally

A400M M54-04 landing at Labuan airport on Nov. 17, 2017.

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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About Marhalim Abas 2146 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. Given the situation in sourthen Philippines is getting worse. The additional tactical lift would greatly be useful for any transportation need in event something arises.

    I wonder what steps are malaysia taking to increase the security especially in eastern sabah.

  2. Alec,

    There are various steps taken to strengthen ESSCOM; much has been covered in the press and some here as well – Google. Abu Sayaf has indeed been very active but the situation in the southern Philippines as a whole is not getting ”worst”. The area where the kidnappers operate from is a very small part of the vast region called the ”southern Philippines” which includes Mindanao and the Sulu islands [Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Jolo, etc]. The cease fire with the MNLF and MILF is holding and it looks like the Philippines government is on the verge of signing a peace deal with the NPA.

    In the very unlikely event that things get so bad there to the extent that we need to evacuate Malaysian nationals and our IMT team; sure the A400Ms can be used but so can C-130s and CN-235s [both of which have been used to transport the IMT and visiting Malaysian officials to the area]. But before we start talking about the A400Ms being deployed operationally; first ask the obvious question : have the crews of all 3 planes actually reached full currency? Just because the crews can fly the newly delivered planes doesn’t mean they can fly them tactically yet or use all the capabilities these planes offer. It takes time and practice.

  3. Mr.Azlan

    Correct me if I am wrong but did the TUDM ever make a strike on one particular island in that small part of the Southern Mindanao back in 1985 after a group of Moro pirates slaughtered 21 ‘orang kampong’
    on Pulau Timba Timba?

  4. Rozaimi,

    Not sure about the incident you mentioned but there was an incident called the ”Maranas incident” in which troops/individuals from an unidentified country/organisation allegedly attacked a small village on Maranas island. The Filipino press, reported that this was in response to an attack by Filipino pirates on Lahad Dato in 1985. We denied we were involved. The attack was also reported by the Australian press. Interestingly, the reports mentioned the use of ”gunships”; off course the only ”gunships” we had at that time were the Alo 3s and their Mausers.

    Sometime later, after Aquino became President, there was also a report of a Malaysian ship firing on a Filipino village. A Senator, who was the sister of the then Philippines Defence Secretary called on President Aquino to take action and also asked if the Philippines would invoke the treaty with the U.S. in case of a Malaysian attack. Around the same time, a Philippines Marine Colonel publicly claimed that they had detected ships supplying arms to the MNLF and said the ships were from Malaysia. There was also an incident when a PN officer using outdated charts declared that we had extended our maritime boundary and were claiming the Turtle islands. This issue was brought to Congress and they later admitted their mistake.

  5. Rozami,

    We have a very interesting history with the Philippines. At one point we even severed official relations with them and were really worried they would take things a step further with regards to Sabah. No doubt, for the sake of national interests a lot of the past history will remain unmentioned; in some ways it benefits both parties. Ironic now when we take into account all the fuss about China but when we first claimed and occupied our reefs; our first worry was that the Philippines would intervene! :]

    There are issues which have in recent times been covered by the Philippines press but have haven’t made news here. About 2 weeks ago the incoming Foreign Secretary openly said that we should consider our involvement with the IMT, including leading it, as many perceive that we are not a disinterested party and are hoping it will lead to the dropping of their Sabah claim. On our part, we maintain that President Arroyo invited us to lead the IMT but some Filipinos insist the first choice was Indonesia and that we elbowed our way in. Everything was fairly quiet until the Mamasapano incident; that really brought things out in the open and there was a big debate in the Philippines on the role we are playing in Mindanao and our with the MILF.

  6. Nur Misauri used to take refuge here and later with Malaysian government help was elected as governor of Mindanao. Now, he is against us

  7. If I am the top general of the country,I would issue a directive to the navy to have a Q tug or barge prepared ( Gentlemen,Please surf the net for Q boats) to lure the pirates/the terrorist into the killing zone. Well since I am not,then I just might as well shut up and let the generals and admirals to do the thinking on how to overcome someone who has not gone to any military schools such as Sandhurst,RMC,Dartmouth or Colorado Spring.

  8. nawab,

    We arrested him when he fled here and sent him back. He’s very worried that the BBL – if signed – between the Philippines government and the MILF; will sideline his MNLF. Unlike Misauri’s MNLF, the MILF is not bothered about the Sabah claim because most of the MILF leadership are not Tausugs. A problem we face with regards to the kidnaps is that the areas in which the kidnappers operate [Jolo, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi] are MNLF areas.

  9. it would be very useful to have a special mission aircraft with isr and fire support capability. I wish sometime in the future they can arm this a400m à la spectre gunship. just imagine how easier things could be handled if we have an “AC-400M” in the skies during the sulu intrusion or, maybe to support special operations in south ph.
    Just in case it happens

  10. Before the TUDM C130s fleet have done their final rotation,hopefully the administration at that time has already done their homework to choose the replacement for it. Hopefully by then,the Embraer KC390 and Antonov An-70 have reach maturity as lean workhorses. Sure,I would love to put my laurels on the famous Lockheed C130J series but hey…Antonov products are equally good too!

  11. In the meantime, is there any plan to equip any of the Charlies with MPA specific equipments, just like what the US offered the Philippines?

    AFAIK, no.

  12. I prefer MAF have a long endurance ISR airborne platform rather than a gunship now. Gunship role could be shouldered by Little Birds.

    Looking forward to an airborne assault exercise with A400M bringing assault forces from West to East Malaysia. AFAIK the last parachute EX involving both side of SCS was years ago.

    The A400M is not yet cleared for tactical parachute drop. it has been cleared for a 36 troop drop, certification is expected soon and the next target is 40.

  13. If indeed there is need to convert a transport into a ”special mission aircraft” there is no need at all to use a A400M as something with less range and endurance is needed, i.e. CN-235. The CN-235 has a loiter range of several hours; more than enough for our operational needs. But why focus on firepower when firepower is not the answer to dealing with intrusions and it’s not as if we have a lack of firepower in the area? Better to focus on ROEs and better coordination between the MAF, MMEA and police to secure ESSCOM.


    Doubt if there’s any serious interest in going for an Antonov product. Sure the C-130J is not cheap but it’s widely used, Lockheed Martin is more globally entrenched/established and we have a long history operating C-130s.

    Furthermore with Airod already doing heavy maintenance for US Marines Js

  14. Rozaimi,

    I doubt if the kidnappers would fall for such a ruse. They only strike when sure of surprise and more often than not; have properly surveyed the area they want to strike in to ensure there’s minimum danger for them. When striking on land, they often benefit from intel provided by fellow Suluks [many of whom off course are Malaysians].

    I was just reading a book about how the Americans pacified Mindanao and the Sulu islands at the turn of last century. It seems even as far back as the 1800s the British faced the problem of raids and kidnaps mounted by Suluks on North Borneo. The British even launched punitive raids on the Sulu islands to deal with the problem.

  15. Kamal

    In the meantime, is there any plan to equip any of the Charlies with MPA specific equipments, just like what the US offered the Philippines?

    The TUDM had 2 of the Lockheed C130H-MP version in the 80s but they have converted both into air refuelling tankers.Maybe we should try to get some of the Japanese P3C Orions (surplus,if there are any) instead but I doubt it’s possible as the returns will be minimal to some.

    Do you know how much a refurbish Orion cost? Well, Lockheed Martin wants to sell them for US$90 million per plane. While the Japanese might give us their Orions for free, the cost to make them useful to our needs will probably cost half of that of the Lockheed offer.

  16. Now it is time to focus on something which is really needed not just looking great.

  17. Were there 2 or 3 C130H-MPs? Anyhow, they are not dedicated tankers as the refueling kits are roll on/roll off. They are still used for surveillance and other duties. Off course the main sensor would be the Mark 1 eyeball. A few years ago in a Chinese blog, photos were released of a low flying RMAF C130H-MP which had just flown near a Chinese ship that entered our EEZ.

  18. A-400Ms in the Luftwaffe reported to suffer excessive wear on their engines and were grounded. Any issues with RMAF’s?

    See my story

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