By Liz Stephens
The UK should end its involvement in the Airbus A400M military transport programme due to a budget shortfall and concerns over viability, a leading expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has warned.
In a recent report, RUSI Fellow Bjoern H. Seibert advised: "The time has come for Her Majesty's government to end its participation in the controversial programme."
Defence ministers from the seven A400M partner nations are due to discuss the future of the programme with EADS/Airbus next week but while the French and German governments have signalled their willingness to bail out the programme, the UK appears to be more circumspect.
The A400M aircraft are due to replace the seventeen C-130Ks that the RAF currently operate, which will be withdrawn from service in 2012 - four years beyond their original use-by date. However, while replacements are urgently needed, the A400M substitute is not without uncertainties.
Current projections show delays which could mean the first A400M would only enter into UK service by 2014/15 - three years after the retirement of the C-130Ks. A report by the French Senate has also cast doubt over whether the aircraft will meet the specifications of the original brief and the estimated cost of the project looks set to rise.
Siebert's report recommends that "the UK should opt for alternative viable off-the shelf-solutions" such as additional C-130J and C-17 aircraft, which have been combat tested in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, supporters of the A400M programme warn of repercussions
Other European partners in the project may be forced to shoulder a heavier financial burden for the project, which would strain diplomatic relations and could lead to sanctions against the UK defence industry in the future.