The US government spent $1.75 million on an Airbus A321 passenger jet just to blow it up — here's why

Gilles BOUQUILLON/Gamma-Rapho/GettyAn Airbus A321.
  • The US Army bought an Airbus A321 for $US1.75 million to test its vulnerabilities as part of its Commercial Aircraft Vulnerability program at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
  • Aircraft in the program are tested to determine threat-level and weaknesses with the Army looking to test the A321 due to its growing popularity and market share.
  • “Explosive vulnerability testing” is part of the testing regime where the Army tests explosives on the aircraft.
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There are exceptions to every rule, especially when it comes to blowing things up.

The US Army just awarded a near-$US2 million contract to an Arkansas company to acquire an Airbus A321 aircraft, according to the General Services Administration. It’s not a typical acquisition as the A321 is a European-built jet and the military doesn’t often buy its passenger jets built by overseas manufacturers like Airbus.

In the US Air Force, for example, American-made fighter jets from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, and General Dynamics are preferred over European planes from Eurofighter, Mikoyan, and Sukhoi. The aerial branch of the military also maintains a fleet of US-built Gulfstream and Boeing aircraft for VIP fleets.

But the government’s new Airbus won’t be flying the troops or the top brass anytime soon as the jet has one purpose: to be destroyed. The Directorate of Science and Technology will be taking delivery of the plane, intended for “commercial aircraft vulnerability testing” where the government studies the weaknesses of passenger aircraft, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The A321 is the latest in a string of aircraft acquisitions for destructive testing with the Boeing 737, Airbus A320, and Airbus A300 all prior subjects. But now, the focus is on the new arrival.

Here’s why the Army wants an A321 to test so badly.


The Airbus A321 is the largest member of the popular A320 family.

AFP/GettyThe Airbus A320 family.

Thanks to its medium-range capabilities with seating for up to 200, it’s been a staple of European airlines like British Airways…

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/GettyA British Airways Airbus A321.

Air France…

PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/GettyAn Air France Airbus A321.

Lufthansa…

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/GettyA Lufthansa Airbus A321.

And Alitalia.

aviation images.com/Universal Images Group/GettyAn Alitalia Airbus A321.

In the US, the jet had a slow start but eventually became popular with major airlines like Delta Air Lines…

Bruce Bennett/GettyA Delta Air Lines Airbus A321.

American Airlines…

APAmerican Airlines Airbus A321s.

And JetBlue Airways.

Philip Pilosian / Shutterstock.comA JetBlue Airways Airbus A321.

Its main rivals are the American Boeing 737 and Boeing 757 aircraft, a small part of the cross-ocean rivalry between Airbus and Boeing.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA WestJet Boeing 737-800.

More recently, airlines have discovered the line of aircraft’s long-range strengths and are starting to deploy it on transatlantic and intercontinental routes, as well.

Horacio Villalobos/Corbis/GettyA TAP Air Portugal Airbus A321.

But none of those reasons are why the US government is after the jet.

Getty ImagesUS Army Blackhawk helicopters.

The government’s desire is much simpler: it just wants one to blow up. And the service branch is very specific about its choice.

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew KeelerUS Army explosives testing.

Source: General Services Administration


For the government, it was either A321 or bust, with the justification document stating: “Only the Airbus model A321 aircraft will achieve the accurate and valid testing results necessary to provide uninterrupted and complete data for this portion of the commercial aircraft vulnerability test program.”

aviation images.com/Universal Images Group/GettyAn Alitalia Airbus A321.

Source: General Services Administration


As the A321 grows in popularity and market share, especially in the US, the government needs to dissect it to learn its vulnerabilities. All in the interest of “public safety.”

Gilles BOUQUILLON/Gamma-Rapho/GettyAn Airbus A321.

Source: General Services Administration


The US government has been doing this since 2001 as part of its Commercial Aircraft Vulnerability program that has been testing aircraft like the Boeing 737…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Source: General Services Administration


Airbus A320…

AFP/GettyAn Airbus A320.

Airbus A300…

aviation-images.com/Universal Images Group/GettyAn Airbus A300.

And McDonnell Douglas DC-10.

APA McDonnell Douglas DC-10.

Other aircraft currently undergoing testing include the Boeing 757…

Holger Hollemann/picture alliance via Getty ImagesA US Air Force Boeing 757.

Source: General Services Administration


Boeing 767…

APA Boeing 767.

Boeing 777…

APA Boeing 777.

And Boeing 747.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/GettyA Boeing 747.

Though it already tested the smaller A320, the government needs to test the A321 due to important differences between the jets.

AFP/GettyAirbus A320 family jets.

Source: General Services Administration


According to the documents filed with the General Services Administration, “The A321 includes a stretched fuselage, wing modifications, and a different door configuration with a reinforced fuselage and undercarriage as compared to the Airbus A320 aircraft.”

Thierry Tronnel/Corbis/GettyAn Airbus A321.

Source: General Services Administration


So the GSA decided to buy the A321 from Arkansas-based Aircraft Repair Technologies for $US1,757,500. It was a great deal as a new A321 goes for $US118.3 million.

ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/GettyAn Airbus A321.

Source: General Services Administration


Surely it’s just a coincidence that the purchase price includes the numbers “757,” the name of Boeing’s A321 competitor.

Reuter Raymond/Sygma/GettyA Boeing 757.

The jet will be delivered to the Aberdeen Testing Centre at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland for “explosive vulnerability testing.”

viation-images.com/Universal Images Group/GettyAn Airbus A321.

Source: General Services Administration


The purchase is unique since the military sticks mainly to American products for procurement and acquisitions.

LINDSEY WASSON/ReutersA Boeing KC-46 Pegasus.

Read More:

The US military has a fleet of modified Boeing and Gulfstream VIP private jets – here’s what they do


American planes and helicopters make up the majority in the military’s fleet, with jets like the Boeing B-52 bomber…

U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Ralph Hallmon/APA Boeing B-52 bomber.

McDonnell Douglas F-15 Strike Eagle…

U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airmnan Jessica H. SmithMcDonnell Douglas F-15 Strike Eagles.

General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon…

Chiang Ying-ying/APA General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Gulfstream C-37B…

Kenny Holston/US Air ForceA Gulfstream C-37B.

Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules…

US Air ForceA Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules.

Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk…

APUS Army Blackhawk helicopters.

And the most famous one, the Boeing VC-25A, also known as Air Force One when the president of the United States is onboard.

Chris Graythen/GettyAir Force One.

But the buy American rule is not universal, with the Department of Defence able to apply for waivers under the Buy American Act of 1933.

Associated PressThe Pentagon.

Source: Defence News


Some foreign aircraft do make their way into the military’s hangars but they’re often built by US-based subsidiaries or in American factories.

Auxiliarist David Lau/US Coast GuardA US Coast Guard Eurocopter MH-65 Dolphin.

Airbus, for example, has a final assembly line plant in Mobile, Alabama to build A320 family aircraft.

Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderAirbus’ Mobile, Alabama final assembly line.

It was just expanded to include the A220 line.

Tad Denson – Airwind.com/AirbusAirbus’ Mobile, Alabama final assembly line.

Read More:

Airbus just opened its A220 factory in Alabama that was originally intended to help avoid US tariffs on the plane, and JetBlue will be the first customer


The European manufacturer also has a helicopter plant in Columbus, Mississippi and Grand Prairie, Texas, allowing it to sell the US government American-made rotorcraft.

Frank Mächler / picture alliance/GettyAn EC-135 helicopter.

One of Airbus’ latest attempts to get a US military contract was when it bid to supply the Air Force’s new air-to-air refueler. Airbus pitched the A330 MRTT in partnership with Lockheed Martin.

AirbusAn Airbus A330 MRTT.

Read More:

Airbus just beat Boeing to be the first to complete a wholly automated air-to-air refuelling operation


The contract, instead, went to Boeing for the KC-46 Pegasus.

ReutersA Boeing KC-46 Pegasus.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 to strengthen the rules and limited the use of waivers to ensure American producers get top priority in government acquisitions.

AP Photo/Andrew HarnikPresident Donald Trump.

Source: Defence News


So while the military will get their A321 to perform destructive tests on, at least it will come from a US business.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty ImagesAn Airbus aircraft built in the US.

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