Airbus is briefing the South African Air Force (SAAF) on several of its aircraft, namely the A330MRTT, A400M and C295, to meet various potential requirements for surveillance, cargo and tanking/VIP transport.
An Airbus spokesperson told defenceWeb that the A330MRTT is actively being marketed as a tanker with a dual VIP capability while the C295 is aimed at meeting the SAAF’s maritime surveillance/patrol requirements and the A400M is being offered as a C-130 Hercules replacement. The spokesman emphasised that the company is not responding to specific requests for proposals (RFPs) but is keeping the SAAF up to date with product developments.
A spokesman for Airbus Military Aircraft said that while there is currently no South African C-130 replacement programme at the moment, Airbus is keeping the SAAF and Department of Defence abreast of A400M developments. “The A400M remains the obvious solution for South Africa’s military and humanitarian transport requirements which require missions flown to various parts of the continent. In many cases, equipment such as helicopters and armoured vehicles, can’t be carried with smaller aircraft, such as the C-130, without compromising the efficacy – and ultimately the successful outcome – of South Africa’s deployments,” Airbus said.
The SAAF C-130BZ Hercules fleet is nearing the end of its service life. Out of nine aircraft in service, only around three are usually operational at any given time. The SAAF is believed to be exploring various options for a Hercules replacement, including new generation C-130J Super Hercules and the A400M – it was reported late last year that Germany was offering South Africa some of its production slots – of the 53 aircraft it has on order, Germany plans to sell 13 due to financial constraints. However, such a deal may run into contractual issues.
The South African Department of Defence originally ordered eight A400Ms but cancelled the order in 2009. Denel Aerostructures and Aerosud continue to make components for Airbus in spite of the cancellation and recently received further work packages. Airbus remains confident that an order for the A400M may be forthcoming. However, marketing efforts may be hampered following the crash of an A400M on a post-production evaluation flight on 9 May, although Airbus remains confident in the aircraft and is continuing to fly the A400M.
The A400M is being offered as a tactical transport able to carry up to 37 tons of cargo almost directly to where it is needed. In order to meet the SAAF’s tanking and other transport requirements, Airbus is proposing the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). Airbus believes that in light of South Africa’s external commitments on the continent, the A330MRTT makes a lot of sense as it is the only way the SAAF could deploy its Gripen fighters over long distances.
When the SAAF attempted to provide air support during the Battle of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) in March 2013, the four Gripens had to make refuelling stops along the way, slowing their progress.
“The A330 MRTT’s enormous fuel capacity (111 tonnes) allows it to meet all of South Africa’s air transport and air-to-air refuelling demands without the installation of additional fuel tanks,” according to Ian Elliott, Airbus Defence and Space head of defence capability. Airbus said it can customise the suite of refuelling systems to satisfy the SAAF’s operational demands, with the options including the Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS), Cobham 905E Under-Wing Hose and Drogue Refuelling Pods and Universal Air Refuelling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI).
The A330MRTT can simultaneously accommodate 45 tons of payload, 300 troops, or eight NATO pallets weighing 37 tons. Aeromedical evacuation is another role the A330MRTT is designed to fulfil. Range varies between 7 and 11 000 kilometres depending on payload, allowing the aircraft to reach the whole of Africa.
“The A330 MRTT will allow SAAF to execute mixed role missions, such as a long range deployment of national or allied fighters whilst transporting maintenance personnel and spare parts and ground support equipment to be used during the operation of the aircraft,” Elliott stated.
Last month it emerged that the SAAF was looking into acquiring a Boeing Business Jet and two Falcon 900s to bolster its VIP fleet. An Airbus spokesman said the A330MRTT could easily function as a VIP aircraft with the addition of a VIP module. As all the aircraft’s fuel is carried in the wings, this permanently leaves the fuselage free.
To date, 46 MRTTs have been sold to six customers, including Australia, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and France. The type has also been selected by India, Qatar and Spain and may be selected by South Korea. At present, 24 aircraft are in service with four countries. These have accumulated more than 35 000 flight hours in service, including combat hours as MRTTs are participating in on-going international operations over Iraq and Syria. An Airbus spokesman told defenceWeb that the MRTTs flying with the Saudis were operating well.
Airbus said that synergies with South African Airways (SAA) fleet of six A330-200s “opens the door to reduce cost in the logistic support, maintenance activities and training during the platform’s operational life.” SAA is currently negotiating to convert its final 10 A320s on order to A330s, growing its widebody fleet even further.
“The A330 MRTT offers the unmatched versatility to support the SAAF in a wide range of varied missions worldwide, and provides the best value tanker due to its unrivalled capability and availability,” Elliott stated, noting that the commercial A330-200 has a 99.6% reliability level.
On the lighter end of the scale, Airbus said the C295 light transport was an ideal platform for maritime surveillance/patrol as it is relatively affordable to operate, has good endurance and comes equipped with specifically tailored sensors and equipment for these roles. The C295 is operate in the maritime surveillance/patrol role by a number of countries, such as Spain, which uses its C295 VIGMA aircraft on anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa.
The spokesman told defenceWeb that for maritime surveillance it makes more economic sense than an aircraft like the C-27J, which although is faster and can carry more cargo in a larger hold, is more expensive to operate.
The SAAF is believed to be searching for maritime surveillance/patrol aircraft under Projects Metsi and Kiepie.
Airbus added that the rest of Africa is a good market for the C295, and Airbus has been selling them in small numbers on the continent, along with the occasional CN235. For instance, Ghana is interested in buying another C295 for use on behalf of the United Nations (which would bring its fleet to three) and Egypt last year ordered an additional eight, which will bring its fleet to 20, making it the largest African C295 operator. Egyptian aircraft are currently on the production line with deliveries scheduled to commence later this year.
Guy Martin was in Spain as a guest of Airbus Defence and Space.