Farnborough Air Show

Embraer’s KC-390 Military Transport Targets C-130 Replacement

 - July 10, 2012, 2:15 PM
Embraer is developing the KC-390 as an alternative to the C-130 for cargo and air refueling.

Embraer will soon freeze the design of its first purpose-built military transport, the KC-390, for tactical missions. Although the first flight is planned for 2014, some details remain sketchy. But at least the program seems well funded, with the Brazilian government providing most of the $2.2 billion needed for development.

“The KC-390 is essentially being designed for cargo and air-refueling missions,” Luiz Carlos Aguiar, Embraer Defense and Security CEO, told AIN. The 50,700-pound maximum payload (slightly below previously announced numbers) can consist of 64 paratroopers, 80 soldiers, a helicopter or wheeled armored vehicles. “We have checked that the wheeled armored vehicles of two of our clients fit in,” Aguiar said.

The KC-390’s tanker capability is based on the installation of two removable internal fuel tanks. The aircraft will also be capable of being refueled in flight.

Six countries have signed letters of intent for a total 60 aircraft: Brazil (28), Colombia (12), Argentina (6), Chile (6), Portugal (6) and the Czech Republic (2). Of these, Argentina, Portugal and the Czech Republic have also agreed on industrial partnerships. France, although it has clearly expressed interest for a dozen, has not signed any agreement or letter–apparently because it is waiting for the Brazilians to order Dassault’s Rafale fighter first.

The $2.2 billion funding runs until the end of 2014. This is when the KC-390 is scheduled to make its first flight. The funded development phase includes two prototypes and production tooling. From 2015, Embraer is counting on starting to receive partial payments from customers. The first deliveries to the Brazilian air force are slated for 2016.

Surprisingly, Aguiar did not want to give indications on the range. “This is premature,” he said. Preliminary data Embraer released in 2010 showed that range, with a 52,000-pound payload, would be close to 1,400 nm.

The company will be ready to make firm offers, including price and specifications, in the first quarter of next year. “From March or April, we’ll got to the market aggressively,” Aguiar said. The program is now in the “joint definition” phase. Some 180 engineers, representing over 50 companies, are working at Embraer’s São José dos Campos design offices.

As development money is flowing, the KC-390 program already appears as revenues in Embraer Defense and Security’s accounting books. Last year, it accounted for 19 percent of $852 million. This year, the program’s funding will represent 39 percent of an estimated $900- to $950 million in revenues.

Aguiar made it clear there is no risk-sharing partner (in the commercial meaning) on the program. It is purely funded by governments. Brazil is funding more than 90 percent of the program, while the Czech Republic and Argentina are providing the rest. For a fixed amount, Embraer is supposed to deliver the aircraft on time and on specifications. Any development delay beyond 2014 would have to be funded by the manufacturer. And the government could refuse the delivery of an aircraft that is not performing as expected.

Embraer has chosen its main suppliers. International Aero Engines will provide the two V2500 turbofan engines with accompanying nacelles and thrust reversers. The airframer said that it chose turbofans over turboprops because it wants to be able to cover large distances–such as the vast country of Brazil itself–with speed. The KC-390 will be the lowest total life-cycle cost airlifter in its class, Embraer claims.

The mission computer, as well as crew seats and directional infrared countermeasures, comes from AEL. Liebherr is in charge of the cabin pressure control system and the air-conditioning system. DRS, a Finmeccanica company, is responsible for the cargo handling and aerial delivery system. Another Finmeccanica company, Selex Galileo, will supply the tactical radar.

The fly-by-wire control system, along with actuators, will come from Goodrich and BAE Systems. Hispano-Suiza is responsible for the head-up display. Messier-Bugatti, another Safran company, is in charge of wheels and brakes. Cobham will supply the air refueling pods.

The KC-390’s main technology feature will be its fly-by-wire control system, according to Aguiar. He said Embraer continues to improve fly-by-wire, from the E-Jets to the Legacy 500 and now on the KC-390. The next feature will be Rockwell Collins avionics, based on the Pro Line Fusion suite, in the flight deck.

In terms of market forecast, Embraer officials believe they have a conservative estimate. By 2025, the market for such transports is seen at 700 aircraft. The bulk of it is for Lockheed Martin C-130 replacement. Aguiar said he would be happy with 17 to 18 percent of the 700. This would translate into around 120 KC-390s.

Aguiar sees his competitors being, first, C-130 modernization programs. “Some of them include structural upgrades for prolonged wing utilization,” he said. The in-production C-130J, obviously, is another competitor. Other military transports are either smaller (like the Airbus C295) or larger (like the Airbus A400M and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III).

Embraer has already penciled in some plans for production. The assembly line should have a capacity of 1.5 aircraft per month. Aguiar is counting on 8 to 10 deliveries per year and a total production run of 140 “would be a great success,” he said.