Robert Hewson/Show News, Paris
Brazil will soon internationalize its KC-390 tactical airlifter and airborne tanker program. High-level discussions with potential foreign partners are already under way at a government-to-government level. Embraer’s evp for defense and government programs, Orlando José Ferreira Neto, tells Show News he is standing by for instructions from Brasilia on a new joint investment and development phase, which will be delivered in the very near future.
The KC-390 development contract signed in April came into force last month. Over the next 24 months Embraer and the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) will conduct two series of definition studies to decide the final configuration of the KC-390. These will be followed by a 12-month Joint Definition Phase that will fully integrate the new risk-sharing partner (or partners) into the program. However, the expansion of the KC-390 team will come well before then.
Says Orlando Neto, “The KC-390 is FAB intellectual property, it belongs to them. Embraer is a technical and industrial partner. Because it is a military program, adding new partners needs a government-to-government connection before there are industrial connections. The FAB and the Brazilian government are conducting some very active discussions right now and we expect to have at least a handful of high-level partners for the KC-390. It will be a top down process beginning at a government level before coming to Embraer.
“Within the next three years every aspect of this aircraft has to be agreed and defined. The Joint Definition Phase has to start in Month 25 [of 36], so if we are to be ready for that the whole process starts right now. Within the next 12 months we need to have things in place for a formal government and industrial arrangement. I would expect that to be agreed by the end of 2009 or early next year.
“Yes, that is an aggressive schedule, but it is our reputation to be aggressive and successful.”
Embraer’s choice of engines for the KC-390 is still an unknown quantity. The company says it needs a turbofan in the 27,000-lb thrust class and that a supplier decision will be made in the next 24 months. Safran has told Show News that when Embraer issues an RFP for engines it will bid a CFM engine, along with GE. Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan (GTF) is another obvious candidate.
Two years ago nobody, outside Embraer, had heard of the KC-390. When it was unwrapped at the 2007 Latin American Aerospace and Defence (LAAD) exhibition, Brazil’s new airlifter was a surprise. In fact, Embraer had been working on its military transport program since at least 2005. The intention was to use the design experience garnered from the Embraer 170/190 regional jet family and translate that into a new short takeoff and landing (STOL) tactical airlifter. With a 19-tonne payload and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) in the 70-tonne class, the turbofan-powered C-390 was firmly positioned as a rival to the C-130J Hercules.
Early on Embraer realized that the transition from civil to military design requirements would not be easy. Embraer abandoned its attempt to adopt regional jet manufacturing to a military mission. The KC-390 will still be certified to FAR Part 25 standards. However, during 2008 it was significantly redesigned to emerge as a T-tailed aircraft with a much-revised wing, fuselage and landing gear configuration. The redesign also transformed the original C-390 into the multi-role KC-390 tanker/transport.
The KC-390 will undertake the complete range of tactical transport missions, with a full air drop capability for troops and cargo — including LAPES deliveries at very low levels. The main hold has a payload capacity of 19,000 kg. It also incorporates the ability to be both refuelled in the air and to act as an airborne tanker itself, with wing-mounted hose and drum units.
This major new program was formally launched into production on April 14 at Rio de Janeiro’s LAAD 2009 event. The FAB plans to replace its existing C-130E/H and KC-130H Hercules aircraft with the KC-390, requiring a fleet of about 20 new aircraft to enter service from 2015 onward. An initial batch of three development aircraft will be produced.