June 27, 2008

 Sinews of war

Airbus' first military transport, the A400M , was rolled out yesterday in Seville. The rollout ceremony is an odd tradition. The first flight is only planned for September, so all the rollout does is allow the plane to get used to the sunlight.

So this dramatic image (via Matthew Saroff ) must be a montage by Airbus' PR department:


What's it for?

The plane has a similar range to, and only slightly bigger payload than, the latest version of the current airlift workhorse, the venerable American C130 Hercules which first flew in 1954. (Both are powered by Rolls-Royce, which has a nice little line in newly fashionable turboprops). So although the A400M incorporates a half-century of aeronautic progress, like fly-by-wire and composite wings, a separate European project is questionably worthwhile from a practical point of view. It's less obviously wasteful than the (similarly French-driven) Galileo project to spend €3bn duplicating the USA's GPS network.

The point is political. It's a truism in military affairs that amateurs talk strategy and professionals talk logistics. The A400M is an instrument for power projection. It only makes sense as a step in the long process of European military emancipation from the USA. Sarkozy plans to use the French presidency of the EU to accelerate European defence cooperation, in a strange amicable competition with NATO. His particular ideas may or may not work this time, but the disastrous Bush/Rumsfeld era has strengthened the hand of European Gaullists against Atlanticists, especially in London. The key American ally in keeping NATO alive in the years ahead is Vladimir Putin.

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