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UK hunts for A400M boat airdrop capability

29th July 2021 - 10:12 GMT | by Harry Lye in London

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A US MC-130J Commando II airdrops a Maritime Craft Aerial Delivery System (MCADS) over the Gulf of Mexico during a training exercise in 2015. (Photo: USAF/ Staff Sgt. Matthew Plew.)

The UK aims to create a new boat airdrop capability for its A400M fleet — it remains to be seen which branch or branches of the armed forces will adopt it.

The UK MoD is calling on industry to provide information on potential solutions to drop large boats from A400M transport aircraft by day or at night, anywhere in the world.

The requirement is for a system capable of launching boats between 8.5-12m long, 2.8-3.5m in the beam, up to 2.2m in height, and weighing 3,800-12,000kg.

In the past, boat airdrop capabilities have been known to have been used by special forces.

The MoD detailed its request in an RfI (last modified on 16 July), in which it stated: 'The User requires the ability to airdrop - select boat types with or without maritime parachutists following, onto water, by day or night, worldwide from Atlas C Mk1 (A400 M) aircraft.’

The platform and associated equipment itself must be transportable by land, air or sea. The MoD Air Support branch is running the project.

The requirement, called Large Boat Aerial Delivery (LBAD), assumes no modifications will need to be made to the UK fleet of A400Ms.

The MoD is looking for an initial production run of about 25 platforms with a minimum 10-year in-service life. The RfI notes that the platforms will probably support 40 annual drops.

Responses to the RfI will inform future requirements and procurement decisions.

Interested companies are asked to ‘describe the extent’ they already have a solution to the outlined requirement and estimate the time it would take to prepare a trial system.

Industry is also asked to provide a rough order of magnitude cost breakdown for the complete solution, including each major component and assembly part.

One boat in service that fits within the MoD size requirement is the 9m Offshore Raiding Craft, built by Holyhead Marine and operated by the Royal Marines. The Offshore Raiding Craft can carry 12 personnel.

The UK already operates a C-130J Hercules boat airdrop capability, and its special forces have been known to use the Aerial Delivery Marine or MCADS capability from IrvinGQ.

MCADS comprises two platforms: the Platform Rigid Inflatable Boat Aerial Delivery 21 (PRIBAD 21) and Platform Universal Rigid Inflatable Boat Aerial Delivery (PURIBAD) systems.

PRIBAD 21 is cleared for 9-12m rigid hull inflatable boats (RIBs), with PURIBAD catering for 6.5-8.5m boats. Both existing systems are said to be compatible with the A400M.

MCADS works by a parachute extracting the payload from the aircraft; the boat and platform it sits on then separate, descending into the water using different parachutes.

Tests have reportedly seen the 9m Offshore Raiding Craft airdropped via the PRIBAD 21 system.

In its March Defence Command Paper, the UK MoD outlined plans to retire its fleet of C130s by 2023. In its place, the A400M will see its role expanded. 

Shephard Defence Insight notes that the RAF has put 20 out of the 22 A400Ms ordered into service, with FOC due in 2022.

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