Australia takes fresh look at additional C-130J transports

Sydney
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RAAF considers retiring ageing H-model Hercules under wide-ranging airlift review

Australia is exploring the potential acquisition of between six and eight additional Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules transports with aerial tanker capability to air-refuel its army Boeing CH-47 Chinook battlefield helicopters and to replace its current 12 C-130H airlifters.

The possible deal is being driven by rapidly developing fatigue life problems with the C-130H fleet, which carries out the bulk of Australia’s operational airlift tasks in the Middle East theatre of operations. The rate of fatigue development is being seen by the Royal Australian Air Force as necessitating firm decisions by late this year on whether the aircraft are to undergo structural life extension or be replaced. The Australian Department of Defence, RAAF and Lockheed have held talks on both options in recent weeks.

The process is also being driven by air force plans to rationalise its two transport squadrons to support the planned introduction of up to four Boeing C-17 airlifters from late this year under a foreign military sales deal worth $2 billion. Options now being studied include merging all C-130 operations into a single expanded squadron to be progressively transitioned to operating an all-J fleet and a single C-17 squadron.

Australia already operates 12 C-130J-30s, but allowed options on an additional 12 to expire several years ago. The RAAF’s C-130Hs are grouped in three different configurations, with the bulk of the fleet fitted for general airlift duties, three equipped to support special forces operations and one used to conduct signals intelligence tasks.

Canberra is, meanwhile, expected to make announcements on the future of its long-delayed Project Air 5190 light tactical airlift project from mid-year as part of a new 10-year defence capability plan.

PETER LA FRANCHI / CANBERRA