Uniting A400M Forces
European operators improve airlifter's interoperability
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A400M United Forces
The European A400M operators - France, Germany, BeLux, Spain, and the UK as an observer - are improving its interoperability and boosting its military readiness while reducing costs, thanks to the Lighthouse Project, an initiative coordinated by the European Air Transport Command (EATC).
Better Sweat in Training than Bleed in Battle. The motto belonging to the European Tactical Airlift Program (ETAP) doesn't leave room for ambiguity. With the Ukraine war at Europe's doorstep, joint training and, thus, enhancing European operational capabilities in tactical airlift are more essential than ever for European Air Forces.
During 15 days in June, France, Germany, BeLux and Spain participated with five A400Ms and one CN235, in an ETAP exercise that took place at 123 Orléans-Bricy air base, north-central France. The United Kingdom was also involved as an observer.
During the training, eight flight missions and 48 flights were planned with a 91.7% success rate.
“Can we fight together?”
“The question is not only whether we can fight, but rather whether we can fight together,”said Lt. Colonel Arnaud Viltart of the French Air Force. It was during this ETAP exercise that the first Lighthouse Project event was launched by the European Air Transport Command (EATC - watch out, not to be confused with ETAP).
“Multinational procurement of weapons systems is only the start,” said Major General Andreas Schick, Commander of EATC. “With the Lighthouse project, we would like to set all the fundamentals and the prerequisites to be able to also multinationally sustain and employ these kind of weapon systems which have been procured before.”
The Lighthouse Project has four pillars: cross-maintenance, cross-ground handling, cross-mission preparation and cross-parachuting, with the A400M as a catalyst due to its primacy as the predominant air mobility platform in Europe.
Multinational teams working on the A400M
Following the publication of the first cross-maintenance operations manual for the A400M by EATC in April 2023, the first operational demonstration kicked off in Orléans, with the establishment of multinational teams of technicians working on the A400M.
“During two weeks there was no German technician working on a German aircraft, so all the work had to be done by Belgian, French and Spanish technicians. That was the idea behind it and it worked perfectly,” said German Captain Cornelius, responsible for the technicians in the line maintenance at Wunstorf air base.
According to Major Rubí, from the Spanish Air Force and in charge of the A400M maintenance team at Zaragoza air base, every day there was a meeting in which the teams were charged to “get confidence to work together”. “Once we did that, we decided which nation could put the technicians to perform the preflight, post-flights or even the scheduled maintenance,” he said.
With the assistance of Airbus Services, the team shared spare parts and managed to save two flights. “We had an engine issue [in a Belgian A400m] that was fixed with spares from France that we got here by a French team, without almost any intervention from Belgium, so it was a really nice task,” said Andy, Belgian Air Force maintenance director for the Lighthouse Project.
Even if there is still a long way to go, the idea behind the Lighthouse Project is to apply this new way of working in the future, in operational missions or long-range deployments, such as Rapid Pacific of the German Air Force or Operation Pégase of the French Air Force.
“For example, we have an aircraft somewhere in the world with a technical problem and Belgian technicians may be available there, on a basis; so they would be able to perform the tasks on the German aircraft, so we don't keep the aircraft grounded for three days, but maybe just one day,” said Captain Cornelius, from the German Air Force.
This concept of sharing and pooling resources and procedures would reduce the logistical footprint from the partner nations and allow the sharing of knowledge with the A400M operators.
“In our branch, knowledge means everything and it is often acquired at a much too high a price, especially because specific talents are too scarce within the mission support community,” said Captain Peter Wijnants, from the 15th Wing Air Transport, Belgian Air Force. “The platform that the Lighthouse Project offers would enable lateral exchange of such knowledge.”
After a successful first edition, the focus is now on the Green Flag exercise in November in the United States with a German and Spanish A400M. This time, the complexity of the cross-maintenance and cross-operations will be greater, with the aim of increasing harmonisation amongst partner nations in the air-mobility spectrum.
And if everything goes according to plan, this joint venture will extend to other platforms such as the A330 MRTT, operated in Europe by France, Spain, the UK, along with NATO's Multinational MRTT Fleet (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands).
It was almost 180 years ago when French writer Alexandre Dumas popularised the sentence “Tous pour un, un pour tous” [All for one, one for all] in his famous novel The Three Musketeers. Time has not passed in vain and this motto is as valid as it was then.