Airbus Trials Remote Carrier Launch From A400M

A Do-DT25 target drone is deployed from the cargo bay of an A400M.
Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

Airbus has demonstrated the ability to launch an uncrewed aerial system from an A400M airlifter, a capability that could become a critical component of the European Future Combat Air System (FCAS). 

Flight trials undertaken late last year but only announced by the OEM on Feb. 21 saw an Airbus-built Do-DT25 target drone deployed from the cargo bay of the A400M over Northern Germany. 

The launch system was developed by German companies Geradts and SFL in conjunction with the German aerospace center DLR under the German-funded Innovations for FCAS initiative, which is designed to involve non-traditional defense companies in development of the Franco-German-Spanish next-generation fighter. The companies developed a flight-ready launcher in just six months. 

As well as a manned fighter, the FCAS will rely on a fleet of adjuncts—known by the FCAS development partners as remote carriers—which will perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and confuse enemy air defenses. Airbus believes large numbers of the remote carriers could be deployed by transport aircraft like the A400M, operating with the manned fighter through manned-unmanned teaming systems and a combat cloud network. 

Airbus says the remote carrier technology could open “new fields of tactics to surprise, deceive, deter, saturate and strike opponents.” 

The air-launch demonstration involved a modified company A400M crewed by German Air Force and Airbus flight test personnel.  

As well as the launch demonstration, Airbus tested Modular Airborne Combat Cloud Services (MACCS) that allowed the drone to transmit data back to the A400M as it descended under a parachute for recovery. 

Such a data transfer, Airbus says, demonstrates how remote carriers can also be connected to a proposed FCAS combat cloud and provide battlefield information during their missions. 

The Do-DT25 drones have been extensively used by Airbus in combat cloud demonstrations. 

Last year, several were flown from a Eurofighter Typhoon with a level of control that allowed the Eurofighter pilot to influence the target drone’s tasks and routings. That trial was preceded in 2018 by the control of five such drones from a Learjet equipped with a command and control system which provided the drones with a series of high-level commands; such as threat avoidance or to investigate targets of interest and fly in formation. 

As part of the project, Airbus in Bremen, Germany, provided a full-size A400M fuselage and loading ramp to implement the deployment mechanism. Geradts designed and built a prototype of the mechanism, while SLF made project-specific modifications to the unmanned aircraft. 

Airbus says it will now continue its validation of the A400M as an airborne launch platform for remote carriers, stating as many as 40 could be launched from the airlifter’s cargo hold. 

Future testing is expected to be integrated into the German Air Force’s Timber Express datalink exercises. The company says the approach will bring “remote carriers closer to the fight providing the numbers for a Future Combat System to overwhelm an opponent in a well-protected environment.” 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.