French to Fund Four Hercules Planes Following Airbus A400M Delay

The French Air Force will buy four Lockheed Martin Corp. C-130 Hercules transport planes as it seeks to cope with the late delivery of Airbus Group NV A400M aircraft like the one that crashed in Spain earlier this month.

France has set aside an extra 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) for military gear over the next four years, according to the Defense ministry’s budget bill disclosed at a cabinet meeting yesterday. A share of the funds will be devoted to the purchase of the Lockheed C-130s, a ministry official said.

France’s Hercules order comes as the A400M, Europe’s most expensive defense program, comes under renewed pressure after the fatal crash near Airbus’s Seville plant. The plane had already been plagued by years of delays and cost overruns that pushed the cost up by one-quarter to 25 billion euros.

Even prior to the crash the slippage in A400M delivery dates had left France, which placed the biggest order for the Airbus model, seeking an interim solution involving the C-130, the Defense Ministry official said, while declining to comment on the potential impact of the tragedy on orders.

“We are convinced the A400M is an excellent airplane and that it has a good future ahead of it,” Airbus, which is based in Toulouse, France, said in a statement, adding that it is in “continuous contact” with customers.

While armed forces across Europe have suspended flights with A400Ms that have already been delivered, France has kept some of the planes active as it needs transport capabilities for military operations in Africa, the official said.

Seven partner nations ordered the A400M for a combined order of 174 aircraft. France is buying 50, with 35 due by 2020 and the rest coming through 2024. The first was handed over in 2013, with six now delivered and another three due this year.

The French cabinet also approved 3.8 billion euros in spending to guard against potential terrorist attacks. The increase brings military outlay to 162.4 billion euros through 2019, according to the budget bill unveiled in cabinet.

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