PARIS – The French air force has taken delivery of its 15th A400M Atlas military transport aircraft, the first directly outfitted to the “tactical standard,” including an expanded ability to land and take off from unprepared terrain and the capacity to make landing approaches under automatic pilot in all weather.

Three previously delivered aircraft have been upgraded to this new standard. Two new capabilities will be added in the fall: the ejection of heavy loads up to 16 tons from the rear ramp, and refueling by the central point.

The 11 other Atlas aircraft currently in the French inventory will be upgraded to this tactical standard by 2020.

Refueling from a central point will be by means of a Hose Drum Unit (HDU) stored in the hold when not in use. Combat aircraft are already refueled via the wing pods on the Atlas, a capacity available on all 15 of the French A400Ms. Another refueling system will be put into place to refuel helicopters but a DGA French procurement agency official told Defense News that is “for later.”

Also “for later” will be the capacity to parachute more than 30 paratroopers per door and per dispatch. The military’s requirement is that 116 paratroopers jump out of the aircraft in one dispatch. But for the moment this is impossible because of an issue with the so-called D-Bags, which hold the paratroopers chutes on their backs. This bag is opened automatically by a static line connected to an anchor cable and to the paratroopers. As they step out of the aircraft door the static line pulls taut, removing the D-Bag from the parachute and allowing it to open very quickly. The D-Bag remains attached to the static line and flaps alongside the outside of the aircraft. As more paratroopers jump out, the volume of discarded D-Bags increases, presenting a hazard to those waiting to jump.

Manufacturer Airbus has been looking at a way to make the paratroopers step out onto the outer edge of the aircraft frame before jumping. This would take them a sufficient distance from the flapping bags to neutralize the risk of D-Bag interference. It could also help resolve the issue of simultaneous dispatch, which is where parachutists exit the aircraft from both sides at the same time. Currently the danger is that they could get too close together after dispatch, risking collision.

France’s 2019-2025 military programming law provides for the delivery of another 10 A400Ms during the period, for a total of 25 aircraft in service by the end of 2025.

Christina Mackenzie was the France correspondent for Defense News.

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