The Army is requesting medium transport aircraft. Embraer KC-390 Millennium stands a good chance
The Czech Army currently has insufficient airlift capacity. This fact was particularly evident in 2021 when the need for immediate evacuation of people from a dangerous environment in Afghanistan became apparent. The Army Transport Air Force, especially after the retirement of the Soviet JAK-40 transport aircraft, but also the CL-601 Challenger business jet, has to cope with limited transport capacity. The pair of government-owned Airbus A-319 CJs that the Army Transport Air Force currently possesses are capable of carrying up to 196 passengers combined, but the aircraft cannot transport equipment or land outside of fixed runway airports. While the CASA transport aircraft, with each machine capable of carrying up to 66 people, have a stated unladen range of about 5,500 kilometres, the actual range with a fully loaded aircraft is not even half that, and the machines are also unable to carry Pandur armoured vehicles. The Army is thus requesting a pair of new medium transport aircraft, with the choice likely to be between Embraer (KC-390 Millennium), Airbus (A400M) and Lockheed (C-130J Super Hercules).
Simona Cigánková from the press department of the Ministry of Defence recently commented on the need to increase the capacity of the Army's transport air force as follows. Currently, market consultations with manufacturers are underway and the information obtained is being analysed for a study that will be the basis for evaluation and decision-making on the way forward." She added that the purchase of the medium transport aircraft is currently being handled from the level of the Department of Defense's Industrial Cooperation Section, and potential suppliers include Brazil's Embraer, France's Airbus and the U.S. government through the U.S. Department of Defense's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which facilitates the sale of U.S. weapons and military equipment to foreign governments.
Limited transport capacity
The Army currently lacks transportation capacity, which has been particularly evident with the retirement of the JAK-40 transport aircraft and the CL-601 Challenger business jet. Their work is partially substituted by CASA C-295M and C-295MW aircraft, which can be used to transport people, especially government delegations, but with regard to limited comfort due to increased noise, etc., it is rather an emergency solution. Each machine can carry up to 66 people. The stated unladen range is approximately 5 500 kilometres, but the real range with a fully laden aircraft is not even half that.
Picture: CASA aircraft. Although these have a stated unloaded range of about 5,500 kilometres, the actual range with a fully loaded aircraft is not even half that. | Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic
The need to acquire medium or larger transport aircraft was then demonstrated by the sudden and very demanding evacuation of people from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, which practically employed both government Airbus aircraft without any equipment being brought in. "During the evacuation from Afghanistan, it was evident that the Army lacked a large-capacity aircraft that could transport not only soldiers but also equipment," then-Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar said.
The requirement for twice the load capacity of CASA
The exact requirements for the new transport aircraft were not disclosed by the defence ministry, but according to our information, there are mainly two requirements, which are the required range of at least 3,000 kilometres and the ability to transport at least 20-tonne cargo (that is, by the way, the weight of the Pandur II wheeled armoured personnel carrier, or similar equipment). By comparison, the CASA aircraft has roughly half the payload, i.e. roughly ten tonnes, apart from the limited access to the cargo hold. The aircraft is thus suitable mainly for paratroopers, small cargo and humanitarian aid, but not for heavier military equipment.
Embraer KC-390 Millennium
The Embraer KC-390 Millennium transport aircraft stands a good chance. This Brazilian machine has already been demonstrated twice in the Czech Republic, most recently last June in the presence of Defence Minister Jana Černochová, which, by the way, suggests a lot. During last year's demonstration, the Army, among other things, successfully tested the loading of the Pandur II 8x8 vehicle just mentioned.
The KC-390 is supported both by its flight performance and the involvement of the Czech aerospace industry in its production, with AERO Vodochody AEROSPACE a.s. producing the leading edges of the wings, all doors, including the cargo ramp and the rear fuselage. Moreover, the aircraft has a favourable purchase price compared to its competitors. The KC-390 has a maximum possible cargo weight of 26 tonnes, a maximum range of 5,820 km and a maximum speed of 988 km/h.
Should the Czech Armed Forces choose Embraer as its new medium transport aircraft, the question of acquiring business jets from the same manufacturer (Phenom or Praetor) is also on the table. The Army would not only get a pair of medium transport aircraft that can hold enough cargo, are powerful and have sufficient range, but also replace the retired JAK-40 and CL-601 Challenger aircraft with new Brazilian business jets. Lieutenant Colonel Vlastimila Cyprisova from the press department of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces confirmed the need to purchase small transport aircraft (business jets): "The category of small transport aircraft cannot be fully replaced by other types of aircraft in service, such as A-319 or C-295 CASA, as they are designed for a different type of transport. The use of small transport aircraft has a justified and irreplaceable place in the military. That is why we are counting on its addition in the near future."
Airbus A400M Atlas
Another candidate for a new medium transport aircraft for the Army Transport Air Force is the Airbus A400M Atlas. It was these aircraft that the Czech Ministry of Defense was interested in in 2017, according to the Defense News website. At that time, a joint lease of 13 units with Switzerland was to be discussed. The acquisition of the Airbus A400M would also make sense given the total number of units on order (176 in 2022). The A400M aircraft are equipped within NATO by the air forces of Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain, Belgium and Turkey. High interoperability and the possibility of cooperation on further development are among the advantages.
From a technical point of view, the A400M is a kind of intermediate between the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. In addition, the A400M has in-flight refuelling capability, which may be a welcome capability within the AAF, given the limited number of leased hours in the MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) project. The Airbus A400M Atlas has a maximum possible cargo weight of 37 tonnes, a maximum range of 8,900 km and a maximum speed of 780 km/h.
Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules
The C-130J Super Hercules is also used by a number of alliance countries (e.g. Germany, France, Denmark, Italy, Norway, UK, etc.). However, the C-130J has the lowest maximum payload weight of the three candidates, at 19 tonnes (by comparison, CASA aircraft have a maximum payload weight of 11,000 kg). The C-130J can carry up to 129 passengers or accommodate up to three Humvees or one M114 armoured personnel carrier. The maximum range of the C-130J Super Hercules is 3,332 km and the maximum speed is 671 km/h.