LE BOURGET, France — Partner nations of the Airbus A400M aircraft would do well to pursue a common maintenance program, cutting costs but also sending a strong signal of European defense, said Jean-Paul Palomeros, a former French air chief of staff.
"Convergence and synergy of maintenance" would reflect and extend the manufacturing program of the military transport aircraft, he told Defense News on June 19 at the Paris Air Show.
"It's essential to cut maintenance cost," he added.
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Britain and France have adopted a common maintenance program while Germany has signed its own contract, signaling a split deal on three key operators of the A400M.
But these are early days in the operational life of the turboprop aircraft, and there is a change in "political thinking" in Europe, Palomeros said. The present political shift to a stronger European defense could encourage a common maintenance approach.
"The stakes are high," he said. European nations no longer have the budget for a diverse fleet, so a plane designed for both tactical and strategic missions fits the operational and financial bill.
The complex systems on a multirole aircraft do raise problems, but these are being fixed, allowing the A400M to fly operations, he noted.
"Cooperation will be key to success," he said, adding that it made sense to fly the plane in a European pool of transport planes to "optimize its capability."
That would also make the A400M more competitive in export markets, he said. Potential clients have been waiting to see the plane go operational. That export potential was boosted by touring the U.S. with the Patrouille de France display team, flying missions in the Middle East and Africa, and French Air Force officers meeting foreign counterparts.
A regional cooperation in Africa, Asia and South America with a common ownership could be envisaged, perhaps through a lease, as not every country can afford to own a national fleet, he said.
On the British exiting the European Union and its possible impact on the A400M, the Anglo-French future combat air system, or FCAS, as well as other arms programs, there are hopes that defense will be a domain that poses the fewest problems, he said.
There will be an impact in all domains, but steps should be taken to maintain French cooperation with Britain, which is "fruitful" under the Lancaster House Agreement, he said. There will, however, be difficulty in finding "practical steps" as much depends on the agreements reached. There will be a problem for industry if the companies lose the flexibility available within the EU.
Berlin is well aware of London and Paris cooperating on FCAS, and Germany is studying its own next-generation weapon system for 2030-2040.
A project shared by France, Germany, Italy and Spain for a European medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV is also significant and will be "a marker for Europe," he said.
There is a real cooperative spirit now, and less of a divergence in requirements, he said. That MALE drone will be stealthy, carry many new technology sensors, operate as a communications node, be well-powered and armed.
"Today, all the countries converge on the fact that we need an armed drone," he said. An armed drone is a sensitive issue, but "it is a priority, emblematic of cooperation," he said.
Palomeros previously served as head of NATO's supreme allied commander transformation unit at Norfolk, Virginia. After retiring from active service in 2015, he went on to act as a military adviser on defense when Emmanuel Macron ran as a candidate in the presidential election, which he went on to win in April.