Germany, Britain could abandon A400M


Germany may soon decide to abandon the Airbus A400M military transporter plane because of delays to Europe’s biggest military programme, a German magazine reported on Saturday.

Der Spiegel reported if Airbus does not soon explain whether and how it can solve the problems, German procurement officials would advise Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung to end the contract. The weekly quoted defence ministry sources.
Reuters adds a spokesman for the defence ministry said there was a continual dialogue going on with the company on the issue. “But there are no contractual negotiations,” he said. 

Britain and Germany have expressed anger over delays, which include problems with its massive engines. Last week, a British parliamentary panel urged Britain to consider abandoning the plane due to the delays.

Commissioned by seven European NATO countries in 2003 at a record cost of €20 billion, the A400M was originally billed as Europe’s most ambitious cross-border arms procurement.
The founding nations — Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Turkey — ordered 180 planes. A further 12 were earmarked for export to Malaysia and South Africa.

A French Senate report published last month noted Europe could walk away from the project as early as next month as the development and production contract signed on their behalf in 2003 contained a cancellation clause should the aircraft not fly by April. 

Der Spiegel said German defence officials expect French President Nicolas Sarkozy to urge German Chancellor Angela Merkel to keep Germany’s commitment to the transporter.
Reuters Thursday reported the Commons Defence Committee said in a report the government should weigh other options besides the A400M for supplying air transport to combat zones like Afghanistan.
“It is extremely serious that the A400M transport aircraft programme, which is to provide much needed new tactical and strategic airlift for our armed forces, is now running two years late and further delays cannot be ruled out,” the report said.
The aircraft has been hit by delays including problems with its massive engines, the largest turbo-props built in the West and designed for steep landings on debris-strewn dirt strips.
“Once the extent of the delay to the A400M programme is confirmed, the MoD (Ministry of Defence) needs to decide whether it considers the programme to be so delayed that abandonment would be preferable, and to take timely decisions either to procure or lease other airlift assets so that a capability gap in air transport does not develop,” Thursday’s report said. 
The committee’s findings are the second parliamentary assault on the A400M in as many weeks after the French Senate called for European leaders to step in to resolve the delays, which it described as a threat to European defence interests.
The UK report also criticised other projects, including the Nimrod MRA4 sea patrol plane developed by BAE Systems, which is now 6 years behind schedule, and stop-start plans to build 3000 armoured vehicles which it described as a “fiasco.”
It said a decision to delay two new aircraft carriers by 1-2 years, just 6 months after ordering them, was “very strange” and urged the government to justify claims it would not cost money.
However the most keenly awaited findings concerned the A400M, coming days after Airbus announced a management shake-up.
Airbus parent EADS, facing severe penalties for late delivery, has called for a renegotiation of the contract, saying the plane is more complicated than first thought and hinting that political interference stymied development. It has meanwhile suspended the maiden flight indefinitely.
Britain’s arms procurement minister Quentin Davies told Reuters last month he did not exclude any options on the A400M. 
Britain has ordered 25 of the planes worth an estimated £100 million pounds each.
Its military chiefs are considering whether to prolong the life of Lockheed Martin C130 Hercules transporters, redeploy converted passenger aircraft to ferry troops to the Middle East or buy extra C-17 jumbolifters from Boeing.
Industry sources say there is a debate over whether Britain or others could pull out of the A400M even if they wanted to.
Britain and the other European buyers signed up to a single commercial-style contract through pan-European procurement agency OCCAR in a bid to combine their clout and reduce cost.
Sources close to the project argue the mechanism means the seven founders must stay in or pull out together, though each could decide to cancel orders for individual aircraft.