USAF asks industry to answer C-130 replacement questions

The launch of an all-new airlifter development for the US Air Force could start in 2014. The new aircraft could become operational 10 years later. The aircraft would replace the 450-aircraft C-130 fleet, but the USAF may buy no more than 250. Even after at least five years of discussion, the USAF still does not know whether it wants a fixed-wing, tiltrotor, rotorcraft or airship.

These are possible implications inside a capabilities request for information document posted earlier today by the USAF’s Aeronautical Systems Center about the Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL) program .

It is, of course, dangerous to read too much into a CRFI. No requirements for the JFTL are established, and basic assumptions can change dramatically over the next 12 months. In fact, the CRFI is released precisely to help the USAF make a series of fundamental decisions about the program. But the CRFI is useful for gleaning the USAF’s analytical framework as the service considers its options.

According to the CRFI, the next C-130 may have to carry up to 190% more payload and assume a new mission — mounted vertical maneuver. Taking on the MVM mission means dropping off medium-weight armored vehicles — think Bradleys, not Abrams — in places the enemy does not expect. Long, concrete runways? Not any more. Fifteen hundred feet of level, hard-packed surface? That might work. Perhaps better: a clearing big enough to land a really big tiltrotor or helicopter. 

At this point, the USAF has a lot of options. Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works is sponsoring Predator and Hummingbird inventor Abe Karem to design an optimum-speed tiltrotor for precisely such a mission. At the same time, Lockheed also has revealed a glimpse of a wider version of the C-130. Boeing has proposed an entire suite of options ranging from helicopters to tiltrotors to new variants of the C-17. EADS North America wants the USAF to consider the Airbus A400M. More exotic concepts also exist with stealth characteristics and embedded propulsion (see Boeing Speed Agile concept pictured above).

What the CRFI shows is that the time for making some very basic decisions is getting even closer. If the USAF wants to launch a new program by 2014, service officials need to define the requirement and ask a future Secretary of Defense for a lot of money at the dawn of a new era of fiscal austerity.

Here’s a summary — copied and pasted from the CRFI — of what the USAF wants to figure out.    


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33 Responses to USAF asks industry to answer C-130 replacement questions

  1. FF 22 October, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Doubtful about the tiltrotor. Bear in mind the V22 Osprey, by no means a small vehicle, can carry just 3 tonnes of payload, which is an order of magnitude less than the requirement. Also very expensive for a workhorse role.

  2. Royce 22 October, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    This sounds like one of those efforts that will go nowhere, particularly if they’re planning to start an ambitious, ‘transformational’ C-130 replacement program in the next five years. Sometimes you wonder about the USAF’s sense of budget reality.

  3. K.B. 22 October, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    What about U.S. Aerospace offering the Antonov AN-70?

    Not sure, if they get it to deliver their offer on time…

  4. Jeremy 22 October, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    Knowing the USAF, the new airlifter will have to be stealth. Good thing it already carries it’s payload internally. Or, maybe LM can make a larger version of the do-it-all F-35 to be used as a small airlifter?

  5. Big D 24 October, 2010 at 4:48 am #

    Hmmm… anybody remember the concept drawings Sikorsky put out when they first announced the X2?

    Sikorsky’s site is down for maintenance, but an image cache shows 2 designs, a 20-ton fast transport and 40-ton skycrane model.

    I wonder if they’ll respond to the RFI…

    Another technology I’d really like to see make the initial cut would be an airship. I have my doubts that any designs will have enough financing or political push behind them to give them a serious shot, but I’d certainly like to see if there’s some serious operational potential there.

  6. Sven Ortmann 25 October, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    They should consult with freight airline experts and create an aircraft which would be available in MilSpec and civilian versions with great commonality. A fixed wing aircraft with a reasonable STOL and unpaved CTOL capability in the MilSpec version and suitable for Third World airlines (used aircraft, of course).

    Side doors (for jumpers) and rear ramp, a quick conversion kit (passenger/freight), container rails, reserved slots for self defence equipment…

    Transatlantic range should be possible with a reasonable payload.

    The payload requirements should be oriented towards civilian and logistical needs, not towards some kind of army vehicle (project).

    Have a competition and then force the better bidder into a fixed contract with no exit clause and fixed requirements plus a huge contract penalty (to be paid in shares, for this prevents that anyone opposes punishing the company – more shares do not endanger company survival).

  7. campbell 25 October, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    In light of fuel; the ONLY aircraft that will be able to fill the bill here is… AIRSHIP.

    However, it will be an airship that is NOT A BLIMP; or some other dirivitive of such 19th Century technology.

  8. Herkeng130 25 October, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    ATT, MACK, AJACS, NGT, AMC-X, HAWSTOL and now JFTL… so we going to get a plane this time? Our C-130s are getting old and tired and honestly need replacement now.

    The problem with current stealth technology in this case is it is susceptible to damage, so there goes your ability to land in FOB dirt strips. So then what? I like the An-70 probably better than anyone but that just will never happen unless the 6th SOS picks one up (and that would only be if more than a few other nations buy her)

    The airship… really? again with the airship? too damn slow to be useful. would be great as a sensors platform or a heavy cargo going to a non-FOB, but would be too susceptible to ground fire. on tactical airlift missions.

  9. anon 26 October, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    With airships, your buoyancy comes from the difference in density of the gas inside the bag versus the outside. The difference in density between helium and oxygen is what gives the blimp its lifting power.

    Density of helium is ~.1786g/L; and that of air (at ground level, which means that the blimp is not coming off the ground) is 1.2041 g/L.

    Assuming a metric ton, 2,000 kg or 2,000,000 g, roughly a liter of helium gives you a gram of net buoyancy. That would be two million liters or so, and the goodyear blimp has a volume measured in roughly ~1*10^7L.

    Using the old Navy L-class blimp specs as ballpark numbers (from wiki):
    Volume: 3,482 m^3, where 1 cubic meter is 1000L, or
    Vol=3,482,000 L.
    Useful lift: 2,540 lb

    The ideal buoyancy calculation shows a maximum of 3,482kg, which is a lot more than the ~2500 pounds listed below. However this is maximum lift if the blimp never came off the ground. The higher you go, the less difference between air density and helium density and lift is reduced. That and you need to subtract mass for engines, cargo compartments and the like.

    Suffice to say, the bag of the blimp is gigantic. The L-class blimp was ~45x12x16 meters and carried one ton of cargo, which translates into less than a modern car. And if you want it to lift a Bradley…

  10. Andrew Kingoff 26 October, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    The internal cargo capacity of the MV-22 is 20,000lbs, 10 tons, not 3 tons.

  11. FF 28 October, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    A number of websites quoted my figure of 6000 lbs, eg

    On investigation I find a vagueness – deliberate? – about V-22 payload. There’s an article here which explains some of the V-22 payload issues:

  12. Arthur Dent 4 November, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Just go out to Davis-Monthan-Air Force Base and put the YC-14 back on track. The YC-14/15 AMST fly-off competition was done in the Carter days to replace the C-130 but subsequently killed off.
    The YC-14 was truly impressive in its capabilities for STOL on unimproved airstrips

  13. Herkeng130 4 November, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    What most people do not understand is with a turbofan/turbojet engine there is spool up time involved when changing a power setting vs. a turboprop being instantaneous. So why the YC-14/15 did not succeed in taking over for the C-130 was a safety issue when going into a short field strip and below glide path, pushing up the throttles may not get you out of the bad situation. The turboprop is still king for tac airlift. Will this always be the case? nope, engines are getting better but right now and defiantly in the late 70s early 80s when the YC-14/15 were competing for the AMST contract. So, the decision to ax the AMST was a shift from a tactical and strategic airlift to a strategic and strategic(with tactical airlift capabilities)and a dedicated tactical airlifter …with the understanding that the Tactical airlift that they already had would be around for the time being… well now the tactical portion needs replacement. They already filled the Strategic (with tactical airlift capabilities) portion with the C-17. The YC-14/15 would not have succeeded in the tactical roll at the time.

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