(Adds Airbus C295 refuelling trials, last 2 paragraphs)
By Sabine Siebold and Andrea Shalal
BERLIN Oct 5 Germany is looking at buying 4-6
new Lockheed Martin C-130J troop transport planes and
operating them jointly with France, placing a further dent in
plans for a fully European airlift capability based on the
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her French
counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, signed an agreement in Paris
late on Tuesday to study a joint tactical airlift pool of C-130J
aircraft, the German defence ministry said.
The latest initiative in Franco-German defence co-operation
comes against the backdrop of tough negotiations with Airbus
Military over delays to the A400M, as well as growing
European concerns over a possible shift in UK defence priorities
away from its continental partners following the Brexit vote.
France is already in the process of buying four C-130J
aircraft from Lockheed partly to allow refuelling of helicopters
used by its special forces, a feature originally meant to be
supplied by the A400M but abandoned for technical reasons.
"We expect considerable synergies from such a move," Markus
Grubel, parliamentary state secretary in the German defence
ministry, told lawmakers in a letter about the C-130J purchase.
There has been speculation that Germany could buy used
C-130J aircraft from Britain to help meet near-term needs.
But a German defence ministry source said Berlin would buy
up to six new aircraft directly from the United States.
Such a deal could be worth close to half a billion euros,
based on the 330 million euros ($370 million) budgeted by France
for its earlier purchase of four C-130Js.
"Current plans call for the procurement of new aircraft.
There are no specific timelines for that purchase," a defence
ministry source said.
The German-French agreement foresees the new joint tactical
airlift capability being operational by 2021, but it is not
certain Germany will have all its C-130Js by then.
Von der Leyen told Reuters last week Germany would make a
decision soon on acquiring C-130s to cover what Berlin views as
a gap in capabilities once the elderly Transall leaves service
Germany is the largest customer for the A400M, initially
developed for seven European NATO nations at a cost of 20
billion euros but mired in delays and heavy cost overruns.
Airbus declined to comment on Germany's C-130 proposals, but
sought to dampen the political attention being given to its
rival warplane by announcing separately that it had carried out
successful trials of its C295 turboprop as a refuelling tanker.
The company, partly owned by the French and German
governments, had lobbied France in vain to reject the C-130 for
its special forces and to take the Spanish-built C295 instead.
($1 = 0.8921 euros)
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Elaine
Hardcastle and Mark Potter)