Although a market with traditionally low numbers, there are plenty of airframe manufacturers ready to react to any gap in the military freighter market.
The world’s most successful post-war cargo/transport aircraft, the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, first came to prominence in the Asia- Pacific region was when it was used for ‘hauling ass and trash’ in support of United States (US) forces during the Vietnam war. More than 2,600 have been built since the first C-130A was delivered to the United States Air Force (USAF) 60 years ago.
In the Asia Pacific region the Hercules remains in service with 15 air forces as multi-role medium transports. However, many of these aircraft are approaching obsolescence, with only the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which incidentally was the first export customer for the C-130A in 1958, and the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Republic of South Korea Air Force (ROKAF) operating the latest C-130J variant.
First flown in April 1996, the C-130J is powered by four 4,591shp (3,424kW) Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 turboprops fitted with Dowty Aerospace R391 six-blade composite propellers and Lucas Aerospace FADEC, which provides 29 percent more take-off thrust and are 15 percent more fuel efficient. The standard complement for the two-man crew C-130J-30, as supplied to Australia, India and South Korea, is 128 troops, 93 paratroopers, 97 stretcher patients plus four medical attendants, or 79 passengers on palletised airline seating. The C-130J-30 can carry a maximum payload of 44,000lb (19,960kg) 1,800 nautical miles (nm), 3,334 km. However, at a reported price tag of more than $60 million, many nations have decided to downsize when looking for early C-130 replacements with the twin-turboprop Airtech CN-235, Airbus Defence & Space C-295 and Lockheed Martin C-27J Spartan as the leading contenders. The former is the clear winner with seven Asia-Pacific countries operating more than 60 of the multi-purpose transport that is produced in both Spain and Indonesia. Powered by two 1,750shp (1,305kW) General Electric CT7-9C turboprops, the CN-235 has accommodation for up to 57 fully equipped troops, or 18 stretchers with two medical attendants. It can carry a maximum payload of 13,117lb (5,950kg) over a range of 394nm (730km).
A stretched derivative of the CN-235M is the C-295 which first flew in November 1997, is in service with the Indonesian Air Fore (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara, TNI–AU) and Philippine Air Force (PAF), the Royal Thai Army and the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF). Powered by two 2,645shp (1,972kW) Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127G turboprops, with two-crew it can transport 71 troops or 24 stretchers with four medical attendants, or 20,400lb (9,250kg) of freight over a 1,335 miles (2,150 km) range.
Developed from the FIAT G222 short-take-off and landing (STOL) medium transport by AleniaAermacchi and Lockheed Martin, the now Leonardo twin-engine C-27J Spartan has only attracted two Asia-Pacific customers, the RAAF and the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF). With a two-pilot crew the C-27J is capable of accommodating a maximum of 68 fully equipped troops or 46 paratroops, while the cargo version can carry up to 22,000lb (10,000kg) of freight with a maximum range of 1,150 miles (1,850km). The C-27J is powered by two 4,635shp (3,458kW) two Rolls-Royce AE 1200D2 turboprops the C-27J giving it a maximum speed of 314kts (583 km/h), is able to land in only 1,110 feet (340m).
However, these three types are facing new competition from Brazil. The Embraer KC-390 twin-jet tanker transport is being developed for the Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira, FAB) and in June year completed a 10-country demonstration tour that included Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. The KC-390 is a multi-mission aircraft with a rugged design to withstand operations from semi-prepared and damaged runways, as well as in harsh environments, varying from the hot and humid Amazon forest down to the freezing cold Antarctic continent, as well as in hot and sandy desert conditions.
Cruising at 533kts, Embraer claims that the KC-390, powered by two 31,330lb thrust (14,214kg) International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500-E5 two-shaft high-bypass turbofan engines, is capable of delivering more payload faster than any airplane in the medium airlift market. It can carry 80 fully equipped troops, 66 paratroopers or 74 stretchers with eight attendants and with a 50,700lb (23,000kg) cargo payload, the KC-390 has a range of 1,500 miles (2,440 km). The aerodynamic configuration has been designed to reduce drag delivering high speed and high altitude cruise capabilities as well as providing enough lift for low speed operations such as helicopter aerial refueling and short airstrip operation.
In the tanker role, it can conduct day and night aerial refueling capability with the aid of observer windows and night vision cameras. The KC-390 will have provision for under wing Cobham 912E aerial refueling pods each of provides a fuel transfer of up to 400 US gallons per minute. Removable auxiliary fuel tanks can be installed in the fuselage to expand the aircraft fuel of load capacity or range performance.
In November 2016, Embraer responded to a Request For Information (RFI) for the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s (RNZAF) future air mobility and future air surveillance capability requirements to replace its C-130H and P-3K2 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft. Embraer demonstrated the KC-390 to the RNZAF during its worldwide tour after the 2017 Paris Air Show.
When the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) issued a requirement for medium transport to replace its C-130H aircraft, it selected an indigenous design that closely resembled, but in fact predated, a larger KC-390 with shoulder-mounted swept wings, high T-tailplane and a rear loading ramp. The Kawasaki C-2, powered by two 60,000lb (27,215kg) thrust General Electric CF6-80C2K turbofan engines mounted on short under wing pylons, first flew in January 2010. The C-2 is also equipped with a full glass cockpit, fly-by-wire flight controls, a high-precision navigation system, and self-protection systems.
It has a large internal cargo deck, which is furnished with an AAR Cargo Systems/ShinMaywa automated loading/unloading system to reduce workloads on personnel and ground equipment. Designed to have a minimum payload of 57,320lb (27,050kg) the C-2 has a STOL capability permitting to take-off from a 7,800ft (2,300m) field length. The JASDF has a requirement for 60 C-2s but only 20 have been ordered to date with a low rate of production.
Yet another new twin-jet airlifter on the market is the Ukrainian Antonov An-178 being jointly developed by Antonov and Saudi Arabia’s Taqnia Aeronautics and King Abdulaziz City Science and Technology (KACST). It has a high-wing design with a T-tail and rear loading ramp similar to that of the KC-390, and is powered by two 17,336lb (7,880kg) thrust Ivchenko-Progress D-436-148FM turbofan engines. Equipped with a glass cockpit and fly-by-wire flight controls, the An-178 is capable of carrying 75 fully armed troops or a maximum payload of 33,000lb (15,000kg) over a range of 1,120 miles (1,800km) at 650kts. Antonov and Тaqnia Aeronautics have signed a Memorandum to deliver 30 An−178s to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).
The same two companies have also launched a new variant of the Soviet-era An-32 using western technology, the An-142D. Based on an upgraded airframe, the An-132D is powered by two 5,071shp (3,780kW) Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150A turboprops driving the Dowty six composite-blade R408 propeller system giving it a cruising speed of 286kts (530kmh) at a maximum cruise altitude of 31,000ft (9,500m) carrying 50 fully equipped troops or a maximum payload of 20,565lb (9,348kg). The programme was launched in May 2015 with the protoype flying in March 2017 and six have been ordered by the RSAF. The An-132D may have limited success in the Asia-Pacific market with current An-26/32 operators such as the air forces of Bangladesh, Laos, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
While downsizing may be the answer for many armed forces, few are able to acquire strategic airlifters. Malaysia led the way by acquiring four Airbus Defence & Space A400M cargo/transport aircraft to suppement its fleet of ten C-130H and six CN-235 aircraft. Able to carry up to 116 fully armed troops or up to 81.570lb (37,000kg) of cargo, the A400M is powered by four Europrop International 13,000lb shp (9,695kW) TP400-D6 turboprops driving eight-blade composite propellers. The only other Asia-Pacific country to purchase the A-400M to date is Indonesia which has ordered five aircraft again to supplement, or replace, its large fleets of C-130B/H Hercules and CN-2356s. The A400M can also act as a tanker when fitted with two wing mounted hose and drogue under-wing refuelling pods or a centre-line hose and drum unit.
A step up from the Airbus A400M is the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III heavy airlifter. Capable of carrying up to 171,000lb (77,500kg) of cargo or accommodating up to 137 fully armed troops or 102 paratroops, or 34 stretchers plus 54 walking wounded and attendants in the MEDEVAC role. Its four 40,440lb (18,325kg) thrust Pratt & Whitney F117-PW turbofans give the C-17A a cruising speed of 513kts at an altitude of 28,000ft (8,535m) and a range of 2,785 miles (4,480 km) which can be doubled with in-flight refuelling.
As with the C-130, the RAAF was the first Asia-Pacific customer for the C-17A, the first of eight Globemaster IIIs was delivered in November 2006. In June 2009, the IAF selected the C-17A for its Very Heavy Lift Transport Aircraft requirement and confirmed an order for 10 aircraft plus an option for six more in February 2011. However, the IAF took a long time to take up its option on the six additional aircraft and by the time it approved their purchase, the option was no long available as C-17A production was terminated in 2015. However, in June 2017 the US State Department approved the sale of the last ‘white tail’ C-17A to be produced.
The closing of the C-17A production line has proved to be a problem for both the RAAF and IAF which are looking to increase their strategic airlift capabilities. Although some USAF Globemaster IIIs may be sold off in the future this is only likely to happen when there is a viable replacement airlifter on the horizon.
Another newcomer in field is the Y-20 project that is part of an initiative to build China’s large transportation aircraft under the Medium-and Long-Term National Science and Technology Development Programme 2006-2020. Two major Chinese aviation companies, Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation and Xi’an Aircraft Corporation, expressed interest to develop the Y-20 aircraft, and Xi’an was announced as the manufacturer of Y-20 in 2007. The first of five prototypes flew on 26 January 2013 powered by four Russian 23,150lb (10,500kg) thrust Soloviev D-30KP2 two-shaft low-bypass turbofan engines.
Externally resembling the C-17A with engines mounted on short pylons under shoulder-mounted wings developed by the Ukraine’s Antonov Design Bureau, a high T-tailplane and a large rear loading ramp, the 200-ton airlifter has been designed to replace People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Russian Il-76/78 tanker transport aircraft.
The Xi’an Y-20 is China’s first indigenous heavy-lift jet transport, which could also serve as an aerial refueling tanker or airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, and it is the largest military aircraft currently in production. Composite materials are widely used in the airframe to for keep the weigh low. It has been reported in the Chinese media that the go-ahead for production of the Y-20 it would be powered by the Chinese-built 30,864lb (14,000kg) thrust Shenyang-Liming WS-20 high-bypass turbofan engines to enable the airlifter to achieve its maximum payload of 146,000lb (66,363kg).
However, the Chinese has always been behind the curve when it comes to developing state-of-the-art powerplants and although the PLAAF has a requirement for hundreds air strategic airlifters, no firm production numbers for the Y-20 have yet been announced or any in-service date.
Although the airlifter market in the Asia-Pacific region is relatively small, there will be a battle between manufacturers to find the ultimate replacement for the ubiquitous C-130 Hercules.
by David Oliver