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Lockheed Lovin' the A400M Blues

The A400M, built by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS), will provide the world with a very impressive lift capability -- when it can fly as a production model. Beset by technical problems, the plane isn't quite there yet and is now scheduled for delivery in 2011.

There has been speculation here at the Paris Air Show that the A400M deal might collapse as European governments fight over the multi-billion dollar deal, but a European industry source rejected those arguments, saying everyone has too much to lose in military capability, industrial capability and plain old treasure if the plane were to be canceled.

In the meantime, C-130J maker Lockheed Martin is willing to lease its C-130Js to those European countries who were counting on earlier delivery of the advanced cargo plane, their top salesman, Jim Grant, told me here at the Paris Air Show. The partners on the A400M are Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey. Grant said that Lockheed has had talks "at some level" with those countries scheduled for early delivery of the A400M.

Chief among those is France. The head of the French air force, Gen. Stéphane Abrial, recently told Defense News that he wanted to team up with a partner or lease some C-130Js since he was unwilling to build a very expensive fleet of C-17s. France was supposed to get the first of its 50 A400Ms this year.

C-130J leases of five to seven years to the European customers would be "likely," though Lockheed would certainly be willing to sell the planes outright, said Grant, who boasts the wonderful title of vice president for customer engagement for air mobility and special operations programs. Once the leases run out, they might be distributed among some of NATO's central European countries, suggested Grant.

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