France, Germany, Sweden agree to develop new medium tactical airlifter

France Germany Sweden medium airlifter
Airbus A400M lands on an unpaved runway.

France, Germany and Sweden recently launched the Future Mid-Size Tactical Cargo (FMTC) project which plans to develop a new military transport aircraft to replace the C-130 Hercules and Casa CN-235 fleets.

The agreement was signed during the the Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace (AAE)-hosted French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (PFUE) European Wings event on June 23, 2022. Other countries may soon join the initiative.

According to the French Ministry of Defense, development of the new aircraft could kick off around 2026-2027. The FMTC aims to meet the need for a smaller alternative to the Airbus A400M. Among other capabilities, it will have to feature self-protection systems for electronic warfare and be able to operate with limited ground infrastructure such as unprepared runways.

"Beside the A400M, which is on the high-performance side of the capacity, the initial conception of the majority of currently operating tactical aircraft (C130, C-295, C-27J…) is now 40 years old, and there is a need for a new medium tactical European aircraft, lighter than the A400M that could provide a complementary capacity for tactical transport," an European Defence Fund document explains.

In addition to being battlefield horses, tactical transport aircrafts are also key assets for a better civil defence/protection and EU-internal needs, with critical contribution to disaster relief, search-and-rescue and sanitary crises response.

The feasibility study will have to identify the needs for transport aircraft in Europe by 2050, and potential development opportunities among member states of the European Defence Fund and their partners. The tender will end on November 24, 2022.

Author analysis

It is wrong to say that aircraft such as the Leonardo C-27J or the Lockheed Martin C-130J are too old today, over time they have received major updates in systems and equipment that have brought them on a par with the latest generation airlifters. Taking fighter jets as an example, it's like comparing an F-16 Block 10 to an F-16 Block 70, they are very different.

The modernized cargo aircraft currently on the market are capable of effectively covering all military and civilian missions. It cannot be excluded that the feasibility study will lead the nations involved in the FMTC program to opt for an existing aircraft as it avoids huge development costs and is available much earlier.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: Airbus

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