Australia axes C-130H fleet in sweeping defence cuts

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The Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF's) Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules tactical transports will be retired early as Canberra trims defence spending, and further buys of the Lockheed Martin F-35 could also be deferred.

Canberra hopes to save A$250 million ($253 million) over the next four years by retiring the C-130H, Australia's Department of Defence said in a statement about the 2012-13 defence budget.

According to Flightglobal's MiliCAS database, the RAAF has 12 C-130Hs, of which four have been parked since 2009. Missions undertaken by these aircraft will be farmed out to other types, such as the service's 12 C-130J Super Hercules and Boeing C-17 strategic transports, a sixth example of which is on order.

Last November, Canberra offered the four parked Hercules to Indonesia, provided that it agree to cover their refurbishment and maintenance costs. Though it has yet to be officially confirmed, industry sources have indicated that Jakarta has accepted this offer.

Australian defence minister Stephen Smith delivered the C-130H news in a statement about the A$5.5 billion in defence savings Canberra hopes to achieve over the next four years. In 2012-13, it hopes for A$971 million in savings.

 

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The C-130H announcement follows Canberra's decision last week to defer the purchase of 12 F-35As, which it expects to generate savings of $1.3 billion. Australia will still receive two F-35As next year, but has pushed back the decision to buy the subsequent 12 until 2014-15, as opposed to later this year.

While the deferral has been approved by the government, the 9 May statement notes that an additional A$700 million could be saved by deferring a proposed second tranche of the aircraft. Although Canberra has talked of obtaining up to 100 F-35As, it has only committed to 14 under its Air 6000 Phase 2A project, and has plans for a second tranche of 58 under a Phase B deal.

Cuts will be spread throughout the defence establishment. Other areas where Canberra aims to save money include a reduction in administrative costs, the retrenching of 1,000 civilian defence personnel and reduced usage of the army's armoured vehicles.

In a separate statement, Smith says that Canberra hopes to "progress" several projects.

He listed the replacement of the RAAF's retired de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou light transports and further consideration of a plan to upgrade a portion of the service's F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters to the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare standard. Other upgrade programmes would apply to the Lockheed AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and C-130J.

The two contenders for the Caribou replacement project are the Airbus Military C-295 and the L-3 Communications C-27J Spartan, with the latter on offer via the US government's Foreign Military Sales mechanism.