Airbus Defence has announced that its A400M cargo aircraft successfully released a drone aircraft while in flight for the first time, in a major step forwards for the A400M’s planned role as a launch platform for drones as part of the Franco-German Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program.
In a recent test over a test range in Northern Germany, an A400M successfully deployed a Do-DT25 drone from its opened rear cargo ramp while airborne, with the drone cleanly and safely separating from the A400M. The drone then deployed a parachute, delivering it safely to the ground after validating the A400M’s ability to air-launch drones.
The drone, used as a surrogate Remote Carrier (Airbus’ term for unmanned aerial vehicles developed and used in FCAS) transmitted data to the A400M throughout the test, demonstrating the functionality of Airbus’ newly developed Modular Airborne Combat Cloud Services (MACCS). Airbus says that the use of MACCS to transfer data is a proof of concept for how FCAS Remote Carriers can be connected to a combat cloud network, providing a network of sensors delivering information to operators of manned platforms that can also be ordered to conduct specific tasks as required.
According to Airbus, the next airborne drone release flight test is planned to take place this year. Airbus expects the A400M’s cargo bay to be able to hold or launch at least 40 Remote Carriers, saying that an A400M will “provide the numbers in terms of flying platforms for a Future Combat System to serve multiple missions, even in a well-protected environment”.
Airbus has used other Do-DT25s in previous tests demonstrating in-flight manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T), with a German Air Force Eurofighter’s networking with and real-time tasking of two Do-DT25s during the 2021 Timber Express exercise becoming the first time an operational military aircraft in Europe has conducted MUM-T.