Today Embraer announced another customer with news that the Czech Republic has signed a “Declaration of Intent” to acquire two KC-390s. This news follows the Brazilian Defence Minister’s travels to Chile, Colombia, and Portugal – where he got similar commitments. In total Embraer has commitments for 54 planes.
Considering this program is quite different from anything Embraer has done before, the KC-390 program is looking quite good. Interest in this airplane is likely to make Lockheed Martin ponder a response of some sort. The KC-390 appears to offer the same payload (~20t) but is clearly going to be a lot more modern than the C-130. For a start the KC-390 will have two turbofan engines rather than four turboprops. Another firm that has to be wondering what to do next will be Airbus Military – any military freighter sales in Europe make their own A400M harder to sell. Boeing’s C-17 is far beyond the KC-390’s abilities and is consequently not threatened.
Embraer’s KC-390 seems to have struck a chord with a few customers. The ubiquitous C-130 has never really worried about a competitor – even though Antonov has come up with compelling options. The KC-390 is clearly going to be considered by many nations as a potential C-130 replacement. Since these deals are government to government, few if any, details will emerge. Which is to say, price is only one factor. Politics makes military sales much more complex and nuanced.
However the success of the KC-390 program will provide further evidence that the big OEMs need to be wary of the growing technology strength from the BRICs. Aerospace is seeing a growing knowledge base far beyond the EU and North America.