A media roundtable in the Pentagon yesterday about the C-130 lasted an hour, but there was so much information we could have used two or three hours. Not bad for a 55-year-old production line!
For the purposes of storytelling, I will greatly simplify the various activities into three major threads.
LM’s Cool “J”
The US Air Force has bought 89 C-130Js and it is now approved to buy at least another 83. Negotiations for a multi-year procurement contract began last week with Lockheed Martin.
The C-130J is also a leading contender to replace the 115-aircraft HC/MC-130 fleet. An acquisition strategy is being developed for approval in September 2009. A mixed fleet of C-130Js and rewinged C-130Es, possibly via Snow Aviation, is under consideration. Of course, Lockheed already has a contract to supply 14 modified KC-130J tankers to replace the oldest HC-130s, but this does not oblige the USAF to purchase an all J fleet.
Again, that’s not a bad outlook for the J considering it spent the first decade in development and production as the black sheep of the USAF acquisition community.
Two issues will force the USAF to think beyond the C-130.
- After 2015, the Army’s manned ground vehicles for the Future Combat System could outgrow the C-130 box size.
- After 2020, the USAF must start replacing the 221-aircraft C-130H fleet. This is called the Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL) — formerly AJACS and AMC-X.
A whole range of options are being considered. One is a competition between the Airbus A400M and the Boeing C-17B for the FCS requirement in 2015. Another option is an all new development program, with the Lockheed Skunk Works/Aurora Flight Sciences All Composite Cargo Aircraft (ACCA) perhaps the model.
The Gloria Gaynor Fleet: They Will Survive
The Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) will standardize and modernize the cockpits for 141 C-130H2/H2.5s and 80 C-130H3s. All 221 will also receive new center wing boxes. Both programs should enter production within four or five years.
The fate of the cockpit upgrade for 129 special mission C-130s, which include gunships, hurricane hunters, etc., is still to be determined. It requires a special version of the AMP suite that was cancelled two years ago. The upgrade requirement still exists, so the USAF will try to obtain funding in the next budgeting cycle.