The UK continues to roll out the tactical capabilities of the Airbus Defence and Space (DS) A400M Atlas transport aircraft, with a recent series of beach trials.
The tests, announced by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 12 December, involved aircraft and personnel from Royal Air Force's (RAF's) 206 (Reserve) Squadron and 70 Squadron undertaking landings and take-offs on Pembrey Sands in South Wales. The service has previously conducted similar tests from the same location.
Although the RAF routinely performs beach operations with its Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, to date the larger A400M has been used in a more strategic fashion - ferrying cargo and personnel between fixed and prepared locations. However, the RAF is keen to exploit the superior capabilities of the A400M in a more tactical setting (the A400M is able to deliver 25 tonnes into a 2,500 ft CBR 6 [sandy] airstrip, which is more than twice the payload of the C-130J in the same conditions).
These beach trials mark the latest milestone in a progression to roll out the aircraft's tactical capabilities. Speaking to Jane's in 2017, the then-commander of 70 Squadron, Wing Commander Simon Boyle, noted, "We have been flying in a strategic role until now. We bought the A400M as a tactical airlifter and we are increasingly needing to move into this tactical arena - it is something that we need to do as quickly as we can, given our requirements."
The RAF is routinely flying the A400M at low level through the valleys of Wales, and has undertaken light stores air drops and paratroop drops from the aircraft, as well as night-vision goggle and steep approach tests. All of these tests are geared towards flying the A400M in a threat environment, and the aircraft are being fitted to the Theatre-Entry Standard, which includes cockpit ballistic armour, fuel-tank inerting, infrared countermeasures, and a tactically trained crew.
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