For the first time, Airbus Military has directly linked the possibility of future A330 MRTT conversion work for overseas programs being performed in Australia with its bid for the Air 8000 Phase 2 battlefield airlifter (BFA) program.
Speaking to media in Sydney today, Airbus Military program manager Valentin Merino said that, while it was offering the BFA and the sixth tanker as two separate proposals, Airbus Military would guarantee it would place conversion work for possible future Indian, Singaporean and other international MRTT buys in Australia only if the RAAF bought a sixth KC-30A MRTT and the C295 to replace the Caribou.
Merino added that the ADF could acquire 10 C295s as well as a sixth KC-30A and still have $300 million left over compared to an acquisition of 10 C-27Js through the US FMS process. He said the life cycle cost of the C295 is far lower than the C-27J’s, offering up to $400 million in savings across the fleet’s life.
Despite not being requested to, Airbus says it submitted ‘tender quality’ proposals to the ADF for the C295 on December 16, but to date had not received a formal response.
When asked by Australian Aviation if a sixth MRTT was ordered but the C295 was unsuccessful whether the future MRTT work guarantee would still be placed at Brisbane’s ‘centre for excellence’, EADS Australia CEO Fabrice Rochereau indicated Airbus would be “less open” to the prospect of more conversions being done in Australia, saying it is “a package deal,” adding that, “we want to sustain our footprint here…the tanker conversion would be part of the Australian industry capability of the C295.”
Merino added that, “The sixth tanker runs in isolation, the C295 runs in isolation. But if both [are taken up], we are saying we can maintain the final assembly line for tankers not only for Australia but for export.”
Three of the five RAAF MRTTs were converted by Qantas Defence Systems (QDS) at its Brisbane ‘Hangar 1’ facility and have been delivered to the RAAF, with a fifth due to be rolled out in June, leaving the Brisbane facility with no future modification work booked in and a potential loss of up to 250 skilled jobs. Merino said work had already commenced to “dismantle” the hanger’s conversion tooling, and that time was running out for a decision to be made on the sixth aircraft.
Merino added that a green aircraft – MSN 871 built for Airbus’s failed USAF KC-X bid but which is almost identical to the Qantas specified A330-200s used for the RAAF’s MRTTs – is available now and is as good as new, having only flown a few times, but that it has also been offered to other potential MRTT customers.
Defence’s final Air 8000 Phase 2 recommendation is expected to be decided on by federal cabinet’s National Security and National Accounts Committees on April 24. Defence insiders have indicated an FMS deal for Alenia/L-3 C-27Js is still Defence’s preferred option despite the US Air National Guard C-27J program being cancelled in the US FY13 defence budget, while others have speculated that the project may be deferred several years or even cancelled altogether in order to bolster the government’s chances of returning a budget surplus in 2012/13. Either way, few give the C295 much chance despite the MRTT ‘sweetener’ offered by Airbus.