Singapore Air Show

Adaptations Bring CN235/C295 Sales Rewards For Airbus

 - February 18, 2016, 11:35 AM
Operators at work inside the Indonesia air force CN235 maritime patrol aircraft that was displayed at the Singapore Air Show. (Chris Pocock)

More than 30 years after the first flight of the CN235/C295 series, the twin-engine transport is still selling well. Airbus Defence and Space (DS) has taken orders for more than 40 in the past two years, including from four new customers.

The larger C295 has been adapted for various new missions such as search and rescue, maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). More applications are being developed: AEW (airborne early warning), firefighting; ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) including radar ground surveillance and SIGINT (signals intelligence); air-to-air refueling; electronic warfare; and VIP transport using roll-on roll-off kits.

Airbus DS military aircraft sales chief Antonio Barberan said, “Customers don’t want high sophistication, they want workhorses.”

At a media briefing last October, Barberan claimed that the maintenance and fuel costs of the C295 are half that of its main competitor, the Alenia C-27J. Barberan said he expected to sell 25 C295s each year for the next 10 years, taking 75 percent of the market. That doesn’t include possible licensed production in India, where Airbus DS is partnered with Tata in a bid for 56 aircraft.

Certification of the C295W version with winglets and uprated PW127G engines was achieved last year. This provides a larger payload from hot-and-high airfields; an 8 percent increase in range; and a 5.5 percent fuel saving on a typical mission carrying a five metric-ton payload for 1,100 nautical miles.

According to Fernando Ciria, chief marketer for the C235/C295, the increased margin helps to make the new missions possible. Most customers are now opting for the winglets, although some who were re-ordering more aircraft declined for reasons of commonality.

Ciria revealed that development partner IAI Elta is now ground-testing the promised fourth-generation AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar for the C295 AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) platform. There have been no takers so far for this version, launched at the Paris Air Show in 2011 as an “affordable AEW” for law enforcement, border patrol and event protection. Describing the sales effort as “a half-marathon,” Ciria said there were two potential customers, but confirmed that Airbus DS won’t build a fully equipped prototype until a firm order is achieved.

However, maritime applications are attracting new and repeat customers. Oman received the first C295 MPA (maritime patrol aircraft) equipped with an updated version of the Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) featuring two 24-inch tactile displays. Oman has also bought the spray kit that can be fitted to the aircraft for oil slick dispersal. It is buying four transports and four MPAs.

Brazil–which already operates C295 transports–has ordered three more for maritime applications. “The C295 is a perfect solution for air arms wanting to downsize from expensive P-3s,” Ciria said.

In New Zealand, Airbus DS is promoting a single-fleet solution to replace C-130 transports as well as P-3s, with the MPA system palletized and therefore removable. However, Airbus DS was recently disappointed in the UK, where it was not invited to compete the C295 against the Boeing P-8 for the country’s revived MPA requirement.

A prototype water-bombing adaptation of the C295 was flight-tested in 2013, and Airbus has subsequently signed an MoU with The Coulson Group of Canada to fully develop and support a C295W fire-fighting version. Coulson will adapt the retardant delivery system (RDS) that it has already supplied for C-130s. Two funnel-shaped tanks each containing 3,500 liters (925 U.S. gallons) will feed an “intelligent” ventral gravity dropping system. Again, the system will be roll-on roll-off, so that the aircraft can alternatively serve as a transport.   

Canada provides a second current focus for Airbus DS, since the C295 is competing for the country’s Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) requirement. This includes the deployment of para-rescue personnel, which can exit from the rear ramp of the C295, along with rescue equipment.

Airbus DS is also touting Combat SAR and Close Air Support versions of the C295, in a partnership with ATK that previously produced two CN235 gunships for Jordan. Ciria said that “a panoply” of sensors and weapons could be carried, including radar and EO/IR (electro-optical/infrared), laser-guided rocket, and missiles.

Flight tests on the company’s C295 prototype of an air-to-air refueling kit for low-speed receivers–such as transports, helicopters and UAVs–are due soon. Airbus DS military aircraft engineering head Miguel Morell reported on ground-rig testing of a prototype hose and drum. He noted that no system currently exists to measure the tension in deployed hoses, unlike deployed booms. So the company is developing a sensor to measure and manage the torque in the drum.

Morell also described a new Defensive Aids Suite (DAS) for the C295 that has been developed with Elbit Systems of Israel. This consists of a new radar warning receiver (RWR) that adds angle-of-arrival detection in C/D-band; an IR-based passive Missile Warning System (MWS); and a Directional InfraRed Countermeasures System (DIRCM). The new DAS was successfully demonstrated in NATO Trial Embow last October, and is now offered as an alternative to the baseline DAS.

Finally, Airbus DS is certifying the C295 for “Extreme STOL” (short takeoff and landing) operations in wartime or during special operations. Morell said that no flight control system modifications are involved. Rather, “we can be more aggressive at the margins–stall speeds and flap utilization,” he explained. The scheme will provide takeoff runs of well under 500 meters.