With Airbus beginning deliveries of Europe's A400M in 2013, Brazil's Embraer scheduled to fly the KC-390 in 2014 and Boeing ending C-17 production in 2015, the center of gravity of the military airlifter market has begun to move away from the U.S.

Lockheed Martin continues to build the C-130J tactical airlifter and Boeing is developing the KC-46A tanker/transport for the U.S. Air Force, but aircraft available from foreign suppliers now range from light tactical transports to strategic airlifters and tankers. China, India and Russia also are developing aircraft that could enter the international marketplace later this decade.

It will not be the first time the U.S. has ceded a market to foreign manufacturers, but a dearth of smaller platforms from domestic sources could become an issue as the global market grows for missions ranging from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). North of the border, Bombardier is marketing its Challenger and Global business jets and Q Series regional turboprops for special missions. In Europe, Airbus is finding new roles for its CN235 and C295 light transports, while Alenia Aermacchi is expanding the capabilities of its C-27J.

When it comes to special-mission aircraft, the U.S. offers sparse choice: Boeing's P-8A Poseidon for high-end maritime patrol and 737 airborne early warning & control (AEW&C); Gulfstream's G550 (and perhaps G650) for AEW&C, ISR and MPA; Beechcraft's workhorse C-12 King Air turboprop for low-end ISR; and single-turboprops such as the ATK/Cessna Combat Caravan and Northrop Grumman/Kodiak Air Claw. In Europe, ATR offers a maritime-patrol ATR 42 and antisubmarine-warfare (ASW) ATR 72, the latter jointly with Turkish Aerospace Industries. Dassault sells maritime-patrol Falcon 900s and 2000s.

Embraer is delivering EMB-145 AEW&C platforms to India and has produced ISR and MPA variants of the regional jet. Pilatus has found an ISR niche for its single-turboprop PC-12, and Piaggo is developing a maritime-patrol variant of the twin-turboprop P180 Avanti, with a prototype set to fly in 2014. Even out-of-production regional aircraft are being offered up for modification, with BAE Systems proposing a low-cost tanker version of the BAE 146/Avro 146 and Saab offering Swordfish MPA and Airtracer Elint/Comint versions of the Saab 2000, already in service as the Erieye for AEW&C.

Tactical transports make good platforms for special missions, as Lockheed Martin has demonstrated with the Harvest Hawk armed recce kit for U.S. Marine Corps KC-130Js and the Shadow Harvest roll-on/roll-off ISR system. Lockheed is continuing to seek launch customers for the SC-130J Sea Herc ASW/MPA variant. Airbus, meanwhile has delivered ASW variants of the C295, is offering an AEW&C variant with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) active-array radar and is testing a roll-on/roll-off firefighting kit. The smaller CN235 is available as an MPA, and ATK is converting one to a gunship for Jordan.

Alenia Aermacchi, with partners ATK and Selex ES, has a launch order from the Italian air force to convert six of its 12 C-27J airlifters into MC-27J Praetorian ISR gunships with a palletized 30-mm gun, electro-optical (EO) sensor and mission system. Seven of the U.S. Air Force's unwanted C-27Js are being transferred to Special Operations Command, but no details of the planned modifications have been released. Romania is testing an air-drop firefighting capacity for its C-27Js.

Seeing the move to smaller platforms for special missions, Boeing has selected Bombardier's Challenger 605 business jet as the platform for its Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA). A company-owned Challenger 604 is being modified with radar, EO sensor, electronic support measures and a mission system based on that developed for the P-8. Customer demonstrations are planned in 2014, with the MSA to be available beginning in 2015. Leading the trend to use business jets as platforms, IAI has already developed AEW&C, Sigint and multi-intelligence variants of Gulfstream's G550. Bombardier's Global is the platform for both battlefield-surveillance and communications-gateway missions.

Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) forecasts deliveries of 471 military transport/tanker aircraft over the next five years, valued at $57.2 billion. Thanks to its smaller CN235 and C295, Airbus will lead in numbers with 38.4% of the total (181 aircraft) ahead of Lockheed Martin (33.3%) and Boeing (11.7%). And thanks to the large A400M, Airbus will also lead in dollar terms with 38.4% of the forecast value of production, again ahead of Lockheed Martin (31.6%) and Boeing (19.3%). Embraer will begin to make its presence felt when KC-390 deliveries begin, scheduled for 2016.

The most popular platform for manned ISR missions remains Beechcraft's twin-turboprop King Air. The U.S. Army operates a large fleet of varied models of the King Air under the C-12 designation, and has begun a Future Utility Aircraft program to replace more than 112 C-12s with a common fixed-wing platform. The Army issued an initial request for information in March 2013, seeking a twin-engine aircraft with increased hot-and-high performance and the ability to operate in degraded visual environments.

Meanwhile, the Army is continuing development of the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (Emarss) based on the King Air 350ER. Boeing has produced four development aircraft for testing, but a production program is still in question. At the same time, budget cuts may force the U.S. Air Force to divest its entire fleet of 36 King Air-based MC-12W Liberty ISR aircraft, acquired in 2009 to meet urgent operational requirements in Afghanistan.