Future airlift in an uncertain world of climate change and military support operations

Line of Defence Magazine - Winter 2019

Two Embraer KC-390 aircraft
Two Embraer KC-390 aircraft flying a HADR mission. Image supplied.

The Defence Capability Plan 2019 continued the Government’s focus on the future impacts of climate change. According to Embraer, in an uncertain world the KC-390 continues to stand alone as the complete HADR airlift solution for New Zealand.

In a future where climate change poses an increasing threat to the stability of nations, future airlift capabilities will be critical to the delivery of effective local, regional and global responses by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

It is predicted that hurricanes will become stronger and more intense, requiring humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) operations to be effective, fast, repetitive and responsive. The more aid that can be delivered at high frequency will determine how successful we are at sending enough of it in time to save lives, provide shelter and restore services. 

Sea level rise will force populations in the South West Pacific to migrate to islands beyond their current homelands, seek refuge on higher ground and establish new lives in other countries. Fast and effective airlift will be needed, at short notice, to assist with these ever-increasing realities.

The effects of climate change are being addressed by leaders and experts in New Zealand, where the 2019 Pacific Environment Security Forum was recently held in Wellington. In open statements at this Forum there was overwhelming consensus that there will be an increased requirement for our Defence Force to respond with HADR missions and – potentially – stability operations. 

This means that a future focus will likely be on delivering effective capability using air-land and air-drop operations as one of the most immediate response options our Government has. 

Enter the KC-390, which has been purposefully designed, built and certified to deliver the most capability in the medium airlift class of modern military aircraft. In essence, New Zealand will require more airlift capability than has been available to date and the KC-390 is the modern force multiplier to deliver it.

The South West Pacific is critically important to New Zealand. What happens in this area will be responded to by New Zealand, Australia and others. We will need to be prepared to fly across the expanses of the Pacific Ocean and respond quickly with more humanitarian aid than ever before. 

By example, over a distance of 1,200nm from Auckland lie the islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga. The KC-390 can deliver to these nations in excess of 25,000kg of humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies in less than three hours. 

Over a longer distance of 1,800nm from Auckland lie the Cook Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Niue, Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau and Solomon Islands. The KC-390 can deliver to these nations in excess of 20,000kg of humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies in four hours. 

Harnessing the advantages of a military turbofan aircraft such as the KC-390, the response that can be delivered to these types of humanitarian aid operations is second to none.

The efficiency and effectiveness of the KC-390 is unrivalled in its class. Its modern design and improved capabilities are future-proofed by having reliability and supportability woven into its DNA. 

Often the nemesis for older aircraft designs is their reduced levels of availability and challenging supportability. Such issues must be avoided so that the aircraft New Zealand operates in the future are available at a moment’s notice to get the job done, when it counts. 

Modern airlift designs, such as the KC-390, have major systems, components and design criteria that deliver airline levels of availability. New Zealand deserves to have the best available aircraft for these critical HADR missions in our region – where the effects of climate change will be magnified in the years to come.

In times of conflict we must deploy and support our forces as well. The NZDF is an “expeditionary” force which often means flying long distances to and from areas of operations. These long distances better suit “strategic” aircraft when it comes to getting personnel and equipment to their destination in a timely, less fatigued and safe manner. 

Also, when they get there, there is often the need to operate over short distances into unprepared airfields in support of personnel near the front line. This requirement is best suited to “tactical” aircraft with rugged and robust capabilities. For both of these reasons, the KC-390 was designed with the ability to cross between the strategic and tactical spectrum and deliver the best of both capabilities in its class. 

The KC-390’s increased speed and payload are a force multiplier for our Defence Force. Boeing’s C17 Globemaster offers similar capabilities in the “heavy” class of modern airlift aircraft. The KC-390 now does it most effectively in the “medium” class.

Availability and supportability, across global areas of operations, will be proven to be one of the greatest strengths of the KC-390. Designed to give the highest levels of availability, commensurate with the commercial and executive jets designed by Embraer, it will surprise both operators, planners and logisticians when compared to what they have been used to in the past. 

Furthermore, the commonality the KC-390 has with its commercial jet brethren by way of engines, avionics systems, and health monitoring systems will leverage a global support network that goes beyond that of just the historical military supply chain. The “modern way”, includes tapping into commercial networks of system support and parts supply, as well as the traditional military support system. 

Embraer’s already established global commercial and military support network is further enhanced by our extensive network of support partners. With these networks already in place, the future looks bright in terms of support for the KC-390 locally, regionally and globally.

Embraer, and our major support partners, look forward to offering the KC-390 to New Zealand, to ensure it has the best capability to address humanitarian aid and support needs in a changing world of climate uncertainty, and to fulfil the entire range of military airlift operations the Defence Force will carry out well into the future.

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