The Indian Air Force (IAF) is in the early stages of procuring 40-80 Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) and has been discreetly evaluating potential options for nearly six years. Among the contenders for this critical procurement is the Airbus A400M, which has made a significant impression on IAF officials during its unofficial evaluation.

The capabilities and performance of the Airbus A400M have garnered positive reviews, sparking interest from the IAF. This interest in the A400M is not entirely new; Airbus Military began a low-key campaign to showcase the airlifter to the IAF back in 2013. In 2019, reports emerged of a quiet campaign to promote the A400M to the Indian Air Force.

The A400M airlifter program has not been without its challenges. At one point, it faced issues related to an additional gearbox required due to the aircraft’s unique engine configuration, where two Europ TP400-D6 propellers turn in opposite directions while all four engines rotate in the same direction. However, the A400M program has made significant progress, shedding its earlier reputation as a “hangar queen.”

Production rate concerns persist, with fewer than 120 units produced to date. Furthermore, many European operators have scaled back their committed orders, which fall far short of the initial projection of 288 units made by Airbus at the program’s outset.

Airbus had offered to sell the A400M four-engined tactical airlifter for around $80 million each at the start of the program, inclusive of amortization for approximately $6 billion in non-recurring development costs. However, a recent contract For example, the UK reported an overall cost of $188 million per aircraft in 2015 (at the 2015 exchange rate) and the latest price could well exceed $220 million

The competition for the IAF’s MTA procurement is expected to be fierce, with Embraer’s C390 also in the running. The C390 is positioned as a less capable cargo transporter with an estimated cost of $130m-$160m per unit. This price differential raises questions about the trade-offs between cost and cargo capacity, with the A400M capable of carrying up to 37 tons, compared to the C390’s 26-ton capacity.

The IAF’s decision regarding the MTA procurement will be a crucial one, balancing performance, cost, and the strategic needs of India’s defence forces. As this process unfolds, it will be interesting to see which aircraft emerges as the preferred choice to enhance the IAF’s strategic airlift capabilities.

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