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The Airbus A400M: a rebounding program and contract (file)


The A400M is intended to replace the old Transalls. Here on the Eufor Chad 2008 operation (Photo credit: Eufor Chad / European Union)


The beginnings

In the 1980s, each army considered replacing its tactical aircraft. The C-160 Transalls which equip the French and German armies must be withdrawn in the 2010s. And the Lockheed C-130 Hercules then. If France and the United Kingdom seem quickly convinced of a European solution, it is paradoxically Germany which is dragging its feet. She particularly advocates another solution, the Russian-Ukrainian Antonov 70 aircraft, for both budgetary and political reasons. In May 2000, the Minister of Defense at the time, Rudolf Scharping, confirmed the choice of the A400M, justifying this choice by the need to grant “ an absolute priority for a common European solution ". The final British decision of the Blair government to prefer the Airbus to an American solution - the US ambassador in London will not hesitate to show deeply disappointed » of this choice - carried away the last German hesitations, combined with the need to reaffirm the good understanding with France.

The 1997 SOP

In December 1997, the final version of the Statement of Principles (SOP) was adopted. It specifies that there will be a single-phase contract, that is to say not distinguishing between development and marketing (contrary to what is generally practiced for military contracts); States with memories of certain “bad” experiences (Eurofighter, Asute, Nimrod AEW). This contract will be concluded with a single manufacturer, for an identical price for all States. Once the contract has been signed, no State will be able to withdraw without paying dissuasive forfeits in order to avoid any budgetary challenges.

From 291 aircraft at the time of the first declaration of intent (the SOP), the number of aircraft fell to 180 at the last contract signed in 2003, the minimum number estimated by Airbus from the start of the program to begin production. There are several reasons for this, first of all, a downward revision of the initial ambitions of certain States (Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey) and the withdrawal from the program of two States (Italy and Portugal) for reasons both political and budgetary.

The 2001 contract

The Defense Ministers of the European States participating in this project signed, during the Paris Air Show (near Paris), on June 19, 2001, a memorandum of understanding for the order of 196 aircraft. The final contract with the supplier, Airbus Military Company, a subsidiary of EADS, was to be signed on November 16, 2001, on the occasion of the inauguration of OCCAR (Joint Organization for Cooperation in Armaments) – transformed into this date in the European Armaments Agency – which must take charge of the progress of the A400M program. But the German government is pushing back the deadline, for internal reasons. Finally, it was on December 18, 2001, that the defense ministers of the eight countries participating in the program. But in an addendum to the contract, Germany undertakes to confirm its order by obtaining the approval of the Bundestag by January 31, 2002.

The withdrawal from Italy

The return of Silvio Berlusconi to power in Italy, in June 2001, was intended as the affirmation of a new European policy for the peninsula, more resistant to European projects. He says “no” to the European arrest warrant, to the food agency in Finland and… to the Airbus A400M. The new Minister of Defense Antonio Martino (number 2 of Forza Italia) explains, in October 2001, his country's refusal to participate in the project. " This device is not used for military aviation ". THE
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denies that a decision has been made. But a few weeks later, on December 20, Silvio Berlusconi confirmed his opposition to the A400M project. " This is a project which only interests French industry and those who produce it. he explains. Italy had planned to order 16 copies.

German procrastination: from 73 to 60 planes

The German government is having difficulty obtaining the agreement of the Bundestag for the financing of its order for 73 aircraft. The opposition parties (Christian Democrats of the CDU-CSU, Liberals of the FDP, Communists of the PDS) oppose the program. Even the Greens – members of Chancellor Schröder's coalition – are reluctant.

On December 12, 2001, the government finally reached an agreement with the Finance Committee of the Bundestag on financing: 5,11 billion euros were to be included in the 2003 budget (while 5,5 billion euros were included in the 2002 budget). But the parliamentary opposition (CDU/CSU, FDP) is appealing to the Constitutional Court. The Court ruled in his favor at the end of January 2002, finding that the method of financing chosen by the government violated the parliamentary sovereignty of the Assembly which would be voted on next fall. The Bundestag finally voted, on March 22, 2002, for the first tranche of aircraft ordered by the Bundeswehr. The second tranche is postponed until after the elections.

At the beginning of December 2002, the Minister of Defense, Peter Struck, officially confirmed that Berlin only ordered 60 planes, due to the economic crisis. Cuts “militarily responsible“, according to him, the key to the future does not lie in the quantity purchased, but in the “cooperation with European and American partners".

The withdrawal of Portugal

Portugal (3 planes) withdrew from the program in May 2002. The Portuguese Defense Minister, Paulo Portas, of the new centre-right government (PSD-CSD) led by José-Manuel Barroso, cited financial reasons. This withdrawal was ratified by the military programming law in February 2003. The Airbus A400M is " so expensive » that it was preferable to buy the C130J then explained a Defense spokesman. " American competitors have presented us with an offer that allows us to buy double the number of planes ". But the reasons are more political. This decision comes in the midst of the controversy over the Iraq war when Portugal has deliberately sided with the United States and France and Germany are hostile to this intervention. For Portuguese Defense Minister Paulo Portas, a declared Atlanticist,
this gesture is a way of showing loyalty to the US government.

Export sales

A first step towards exporting the aircraft was taken with the signing of a declaration of intent to purchase with South Africa on December 9, 2004, confirmed in March 2005 for 8 aircraft. The country participating in the program for a value of 750 million euros.

A declaration of intent was signed with Chile in July 2005 for delivery between 2018 and 2022. It has not been followed up.

A contract was signed on December 8, 2005 with Malaysia for the purchase of four planes. This agreement also seals the Malaysian industrial participation in the program, for an amount of approximately 200 million euros. Malaysian subcontractors carrying out the design and manufacturing work of certain elements of the Airbus fuselage.

In January 2008, Airbus failed to win a contract in Canada. The Canadian government approves the purchase of 17 C-130Js from the American manufacturer Lockheed for 4,9 billion Canadian dollars.

  • Airbus A400M orders
    Number of orders SOP June 1997 Contract 2001 Contract 2003 export sales
    Germany 75 73 60
    France 50 50 50
    United Kingdom 45 25 25
    Italy 44 -> 16 0 0
    Spain 36 27 27
    Turkey 20 10 10
    Belgium 12 7 7
    Portugal 9 3 0
    Luxembourg - 1 1
    South Africa 8
    Malaysia 4
    Total 291 196 180 192

Delivery schedule (estimated)

The contract provides for staggered delivery periods.

  • France: October 2009 to May 2019
  • United Kingdom: March 2010 to April 2015
  • Germany: from November 2010
  • Spain: November 2011 to May 2021
  • Turkey: December 2009 to February 2014
  • Belgium: Oct. 2018 to May 2020
  • Luxembourg: October 2017
  • South Africa: 2010 to 2012
  • Malaysia: no data known

The Airbus Company

Airbus created on January 25, 1999, Airbus Military Company (AMC) – a company under French law – to respond to the “request for proposal” (RFP) from the States. After leaving Italy, this became Airbus Military SAS – a company incorporated under French law – and signed the first contract with OCCAR (December 2001). Then it became Airbus Military Sociedad Limitada (AMSL) – a company incorporated under Spanish law – which signed the final contract (May 2003). Shareholders: Airbus (69,44%), EADS Casa (20,56%), the Belgian Flabel (4,44%) and the Turkish Turkish Aerospace Industries TAI (5,56%). NB: Flabel is a company formed by several Belgian industrialists: 25% Sonaca, 25% Asco, 25% Barco, 17% Sabca, 8% Sabca Limburg

EADS was incorporated in December 1998 as a company under Dutch law. In July 2000, it absorbed the French "Aerospatiale Matra" (AMC), the German "Daimler Aerospace" (DASA AG) and the Spanish "Construcciones Aeronauticas" (CASA). Shareholders: the German DASA (22,5%); the French Sogeade (25%) — a company incorporated at 60% by the French State through Sogepa and Lagardère (Desirade) —; and the Spanish Sepi (5,49%) — a holding company of the Spanish State — form the shareholders' agreement (52,99%), the rest of the capital being floating (47,01%). About 0,52% of the capital is held by employees.

Main Airbus sub-contractors

• The engine : a consortium of engine manufacturers, Europrop International (EPI), bringing together Snecma (Safran group), Rolls-Royce (United Kingdom / Germany), MTU (Germany) and ITP (Spain).

• Theavionics : Thales (France) for the flight management system (FMS), Sagem (Safran group – France) for the GADIRS (localization system using mainly GPS and inertia), RDE (Germany) for the flight control system the hold (LMC), and EADS-DE (Germany) for the DASS (aircraft self-protection system) and the M-MMS
(military mission management system).

© NGV / EUropolitics / Brussels2

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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