The Portuguese Air Force has unveiled its KC-390 transport aircraft in an international debut, demonstrating its capabilities during a force projection mission.

The Portuguese Air Force conducted its first-ever force projection using the Embraer KC-390 transport aircraft on 22 October 2023. The feat occurred as the KC-390 transported military personnel and cargo to the Canary Islands, Spain, in support of the multinational Spanish-led exercise Ocean Sky 2023. This exercise marks the participation of Portuguese F-16s in multinational drills.

The KC-390 is a versatile transport aircraft with intercontinental reach, capable of executing a spectrum of missions, both civil and military.

Its capabilities encompass the transport of troops, vehicles and palletised loads, as well as paratrooper drops, medical evacuations, search and rescue missions, air-to-air refuelling and firefighting support. The aircraft’s adaptability positions it as a key asset for Portugal and its international military commitments.

Major General Sérgio Roberto Leite da Costa Pereira, Head of the Office of the Air Chief of Staff, emphasised the significance of the KC-390’s capabilities. “This comprehensive range of capabilities enables the Portuguese Air Force to accomplish necessary requirements for participation in military operations under the aegis of alliances Portugal is part of, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato),” he stated.

The introduction of the KC-390 into Portugal’s military arsenal began in 2019 when the nation decided to acquire five of these aircraft along with a flight simulator. On 18 October 2023, a Portuguese KC-390 took its maiden operational flight from Brazil to Portugal.

The aircraft took off from Gavião Peixoto, made stops in Recife and Cape Verde, and landed at Beja Air Base, Portugal, on 19 October. This ferry flight marked the formation of the newly created 506 Squadron, known as “Rinocerontes”, which received its first KC-390.

Over the next few years, the Portuguese Air Force is set to receive one aircraft each year until the Rinocerontes squadron is complete by 2027.

The KC-390 is a medium-size, jet-powered, twin-engine utility transport aircraft with a payload capacity of 26 tonnes. It is designed and produced by Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer and has garnered international interest.

Besides Portugal, several European air forces, including Hungary, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Austria are considering the acquisition of C-390s.

Compared to the C-130 Hercules, the KC-390’s main differentiator is its jet-powered twin-engine configuration, which provides enhanced speed and the ability to carry heavier cargo. Furthermore, the KC-390 offers air-to-air refuelling as a standard feature, further enhancing its utility and complementing existing tanker fleets.

The debut of the KC-390 in international military operations shows Portugal’s commitment to modernising its military capabilities and enhancing its role in multinational defence efforts.