Monday, May 11, 2009

Airbus try and get A400M back on track

Airbus Military is trying to get the much-delayed and yet-to-fly A400M back on track with a show of commitment from from the 7 European partners before proceeding with the programme. The first flight is now expected some time later this year though the date as yet has not been made public. Delivery dates cannot be given until the flight testing has begun and they have some idea of how much work (and money) will be required to get the plane to completion. Earlier it was estimated delivery to the first customer will be about 3 years after the beginning of flight testing.

Of course the question remains for the RAF, in or out? Leaving it would seem the immediate relief for the short term pain but unfortunately in the long run the wrong option. Leaving A400M would put British jobs at risk and this plane will sell, and likely to sell a lot.

Of course the long term job prospects of Airbus employees is of little comfort or interest to hard pushed troops on the ground and strained RAF logistics crews and it is easy for some commentators to say an off-the-shelf solution should be procured immediately but that is ignoring politics. At the end of the day the military's greatest enemy is politics and its a fact of life that much military procurement is designed to generate or retain jobs in the home nation. Its not ideal for some reasons (but not a total loss, see below) but its a fact of life and grown-ups have to just "deal with it". Keeping arms production "local" is also one of the few times politicians actually think beyond their immediate re-election prospects.

To be reliant on foreign countries for your military hardware is not a situation you really want to be in. In some cases too you can only make some weapons for yourself (e.g. nuclear submarines) and you need to ensure a continual work stream to keep skills and facilities intact. For an example of what happens when you don't, Astute.

So basically the RAF will have to eat the short term pain to afford long-term political and economic gain, but they may get an extra C-17 or two out of it anyway.

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