PARIS – The French air force expects to receive shortly the third A400M airlifter which has been retrofitted to the more capable "tactical" version, a spokesman for the service said on Thursday.

The service expects to receive the upgraded turboprop aircraft "very soon," the spokesman said. The delivery schedule "overall is on the right track," he said.

That unit will complete the three-strong batch of Airbus A400Ms which underwent a retrofit in Spain to equip the aircraft with a self-protection package, to use short and rough runways, air-drop paratroopers and cargo from a side door and the rear ramp, and some in-flight refueling.

The Direction Générale de l'Armement received the first two retrofit aircraft Jan. 9 and 18, a spokesman for the procurement office said. After DGA inspection, the air service took possession of the planes.

Airbus had pledged to deliver six "tactical" A400Ms last year, with the first three units built to that standard and delivered to France.

Delivering that close to the schedule on such a large program can be seen as satisfactory, the Air Force spokesman said. The service now has a fleet of 11 A400Ms at the Orléans airbase, central France. Of that total fleet, seven are flying missions to Jordan and the African sub-Saharan Sahel region, which is a reasonable rate of use, he said.

There remain a further five units to undergo a retrofit, and these are expected to upgraded when they undergo a detailed maintenance "C check" for airworthiness after two years of service.

France is due to operate a fleet of 15 A400Ms under the 2014-2019 defense budget.