Paint Job On Kazakhstan’s New A400M Looks Like A ‘Soviet’ Plane In A Bond Film

The airlifter, which is due to be delivered to Kazakhstan later this year, features a glossy gray color and Soviet-style ‘Bort’ markings.

byOliver Parken|
Newly-painted Kazakhstan Air Force A400M pre-delivery
Airbus Defense


The first of Kazakhstan's future Airbus A400M Atlas airlifter has been unveiled by the company, and sports a rather unusual paint scheme as well as Soviet-style "Bort" markings. The result looks uncannily like a Soviet-era airlifter; and, for the James Bond aficionados out there, gives off a similar vibe to the C-130 Hercules seen near the end of The Living Daylights which was painted up to look like an Antonov An-12.

Visuals of the newly-painted A400M Atlas (MSN139) at Airbus’s San Pablo final assembly site in Seville, Spain, were released today by the company. MSN139 is one of two A400Ms set to be delivered to the Republic of Kazakhstan, and is scheduled to be handed over at some point later this year.

In video released by Airbus on X linked above, we see the A400M — with its propellers protected by plastic coverings — in the process of being painted. It shows the aircraft being primed with white paint before its unusual gloss gray livery is applied via spray paint guns. 

A400M being spray painted in its unusual glossy gray paint scheme. Airbus Defense via X

Alongside Kazakhstan Air Force markings, including the roundel of Kazakhstan seen on various parts of the aircraft, the A400M also sports Soviet-style red "Bort" markings — number '21' — to the rear of the fuselage. Bort markings are two- to three-digit numbers found on the side of the fuselage of Soviet (and later Russian) aircraft which identify individual aircraft in a given unit.

'Kazakstan Air Force' marking being applied. Airbus Defense via X
Kazakstan roundel seen on various parts of the aircraft. Airbus Defense
"Bort" markings being applied via spray paint gun. Airbus Defense via X
Airbus Defense via X
Airbus Defense

Commentators on X have underscored how the presence of the Bort markings on the newly built Western airlifter gives MSN139 an unusual appearance, to say the least — blending modern aircraft design with the aesthetic characteristics of a Soviet-era aircraft. 

The order for Kazakhstan's two Airbus A400Ms was placed back in 2021, in what was a major deal for both the country and the company. 

According to the 2023 World Air Forces Directory, Kazakhstan's aging fleet of Soviet-era heavy transports includes a single Antonov An-12 and two An-72 aircraft. It also possesses seven smaller An-26s. Kazakhstan has ordered a total of 12 C295 medium transports from Airbus, 11 of which have been delivered and are operational, per recent Airbus figures. A contract for the first two aircraft was signed in 2010, which were later delivered in 2013. In keeping with its Soviet-era transports, Airbus' Kazakhstan C295s feature red bort markings, as seen below.

Kazakhstan's fith Airbus C295, seen sporting red bort markings. Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense

The addition of two new large transport aircraft in the form of A400Ms will provide an important capability boost for the Kazakhstan Air Force. Airbus' A400M is able to deliver payloads up to 37 tons; a significant increase compared to the under 20 tons of the An-12. The aircraft will be used for a whole host of mission sets, including conducting tactical and strategic airlift operations as well as long-range deployments and humanitarian-type missions.

For Airbus, too, having A400M orders to fulfill is significant. With the signing of the 2021 contract, Kazakhstan became only the second non-European country to order A400Ms following Malaysia, which ordered four of those aircraft in 2005, all of which have been delivered. Prior to that, A400M sales were limited to European nations; including France, Germany, Spain, the U.K., Belgium, Turkey, and Luxembourg, which all placed orders in 2003. 

Since then, Indonesia has become the latest country to sign up for A400Ms. In November 2021 it signed with Airbus for two of those aircraft, which are to be delivered from 2026. In total, 178 A400M orders have been received by Airbus, of which 128 have been delivered, per the company.

Airbus Defense

Kazakhstan's continuing relationship with Airbus also signals the country's diversification in sourcing defense equipment from outside of Russia, particularly with respect to bolstering its aviation assets. Traditionally, the former Soviet Republic has relied heavily on Russia for aircraft supply; and, in some areas at least, continues to. Late last year, Kazakhstan chose to procure additional Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30SM multirole fighters over interest in France's Dassault Rafale fighter, largely due to cost concerns. However, in areas where Russia has less to offer, notably in terms of heavy-lift aircraft, Kazakhstan has looked to the West for its needs.

And while the deal for Kazakhstan's A400Ms was signed before Russia's war in Ukraine began in early 2022, since then, Western defense contractors — including aircraft manufacturers — have increasingly sought to scoop up market share from Russia while the latter country battles Western-imposed sanctions. Not only has Russia's aircraft production for foreign customers decreased, but crucially, the source of various Russian aircraft spare parts has effectively dried up. This has left many fleets, which rely on said spares, largely grounded; giving the opportunity to Western aerospace firms to swoop in and pick up business. You can read more about all these issues in our past reporting here.

Whatever the case, it's certainly interesting to see the approach Kazakhstan's Air Force and Airbus have taken in painting the country's first A400M as it prepares for delivery later this year. 

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