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Will the 20-ton Grizzly ever arrive in India?

Last updated on: October 22, 2010 08:57 IST

Will the 20-ton Grizzly ever arrive in India?

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Raghubansh Sinha in Seville, Spain

European aerospace major EADS is on the verge of bringing into markets its new A400M Grizzly to compete in Indian military proposals for inducting giant airlifters to boost its strategic reach.

Didier Vernet, Head of A400M Market Development, Airbus Military, said the European consortium is looking to increase sales of the multi-national four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft outside Europe, particularly to "the lucrative Indian defence market".

He said Airbus Military is looking beyond the continent for new business as it inches ahead to ink a final agreement among the launch nations -- France, Germany, Spain, the UK, Turkey, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

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Image: A400M Grizzly
Photographs: Reuters
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Currently 180 aircraft are ordered by the seven launch nations, with an additional four from Malaysia.

"We can consider selling A400M to India after fulfilling the orders of the launch nations as we see India as a major market," Vernet said, adding they plan to manufacture 30 aircraft per year.

With India seeking to expand its strategic lift capacity, the Grizzly could give a run for money to Boeing C-17 Globemasters as well as the Russian competitors.

New Delhi recently announced a decision to buy through government-to-government deal 10 American C-17 Globemasters, with planners saying that air force needed many more.



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European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, the parent company of Airbus Military, is looking to India as a key market for its A400M airlifter, which has been dogged by delays and spiralling costs.

In India, it plans to position the A400M between Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemasters, the two hot ticket items on the US agenda for President Barack Obama's New Delhi visit next month.

The A400M programme, which was launched in May 2003 and moving into its industrial phase in 2006, was designed by Airbus Military 'as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities".

Vernet said the "versatile airlifter provides the strategic range capability" and undertakes both military and civic tasks.



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"With a typical payload of 20 tonnes, it has an operating range of 3450 nm (6390 km) and 2450 nm (4535 km) range with a payload of 30 tonnes," he said.

The hulking gray A400M turboprop could be "rapidly reconfigured to become air-to-air tanker able to refuel fighters, helicopter and other large aircraft at their preferred speeds and height."

It has a "built in AAR refueling capability that is fast and high enough for fast jets and slow and low enough for helicopters to give a commander operational flexibility enabling him to assign these aircrafts to which ever role is most needed to meet rapidly changing operational scenarios," Vernet said.



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Operation from austere airfields with short runways under hot and high conditions is a key characteristic of A400M. The airlifter's "good low speed characteristic and ample power allow the use of short airstrips for take off and landing".

It can "deliver 25 tons of payload into a 750 metres (2460 ft) airstrip with enough fuel on board for a 500 nm return trip".

The ambitious joint European defence project is, however, running four years behind schedule and cost overruns. EADS has been in discussions with the seven customer governments, with some key nations hesitant to plough more money into the much-delayed project.

Despite reaching an agreement in principle earlier this year on how to share the cost overruns, they are still to sign the final agreement.



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"We are moving to ink a deal," Vernet said, even as he agreed that efforts to trim defence budget by governments across Europe has prompted alarm for the ambitious project, already dogged by delays and spiralling costs.

However, he argued that inking a joint deal involving all seven nations is bound to take some time as consortium member nations are facing pressure from austerity budgets following the worst economic recession in generations.

Even as Vernet suggested a sense of uncertainty over the final agreement, many at Airbus saw a silver lining in global shift toward security -- including anti-terror measures, border surveillance and disaster management -- as key factors that will help the project survive defense spending cuts.





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Manuel Portillo, Configuration Manager for A400M, agrees that the "biggest challenge for Airbus is to meet the timeline targets and cost overruns".

He said three prototype of A400M is undergoing flight tests, with the earliest one having undertaken more than 86 flights.

The first aircraft MSN001 made its maiden flight in December 2009, with MSN002 joining it in May. The fourth prototype of the airlifter is at the assembly line, with first flight test expected by end of 2010.

Even as Indian defence planners are insisting that the military be armed with the most updated technology, IAF sources said: "New Delhi would be hesitant to invest valuable resources into the project that is dogged by delays and spiralling costs".

"With the project missing targets, huge backlog and still in trial stage, it makes little sense for the Indian Air Force to pitch for it," an expert said.




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