The French Armed Forces General Staff revealed that an A400M Atlas achieved its very first Air Delivery on September 18, 2019, on a theater of operations in the Saharan-Sahelian region as part of Operation Barkhane.
With the progressive withdrawal of the C-160R Transall that should be completed in 2023, and developmental delays affecting the A400M, airdrop capacities of the French military have been dangerously shrinking. “This year, the figures for airdrop capabilities will probably be the lowest in the last three years,” protested General Jean-Pierre Bosser, Chief of Staff of the Army, in a hearing with the National Assembly.
The alternative is to carry supplies by land. Such operations prove more complicated logistically, more demanding for vehicles in the rough Saharan-Sahelian terrain, and can prove more dangerous as soldiers are exposed to potential ambushes or IEDs. In May 2019, the French army had to carry out a convoy over more than 1,000 km (over 620 miles) to resupply its base in Kidal, northern Mali. A hundred vehicles and more than 200 soldiers were involved in the mission that lasted over a week.
This situation could change soon for the better. The French Armed Forces General Staff announced in its latest operational debriefing that two test airdrops were successfully carried out by an A400M under the supervision of the Centre d’expertise aérienne militaire (CEAM), the French aeronautical research and test center, on September 18 and 20, 2019.
Pallets containing food and water, a total of 30 tons (60,000 pounds) of supply, were delivered to Kidal base. “In addition to its speed, the carrying capacity of the A400M and its elongation allow to deliver far and in large quantities,” according to the General Staff statement, which also highlighted that air delivery was “a secure and fast means of supply that was a real asset for ground troops.
According to Airbus, the A400M can airdrop up to 25 tons (55,100 pounds) of containers or pallets through gravity and parachute extraction. Its cargo hold can house two Tiger attack helicopters or even an armored infantry fighting vehicle. The transport aircraft can also act as a refueler.
It is already certified to service the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Panavia Tornado, and the Boeing F/A-18, as well as other tankers such as the C295, the C-130, and even another A400M for buddy refueling. It is undergoing certification by the French Directorate General of Armament for helicopter refueling. So far, France has received 15 A400M Atlas out of the 50 it has on order.
The French military will also be able to count on the four Lockheed Martin C-130Js it ordered. The last one should be delivered in 2020. Smaller than the A400M, Lockheed‘s best-seller can still airdrop loads of up to 19 tons (42,000 pounds).