New Zealand starts to explore C-130H Hercules replacement

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The Royal New Zealand Air Force has flagged initial plans to replace its ageing Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules as part of an evolving long-term capability strategy still to receive government approvals. The project would aim to introduce the replacement aircraft around 2017, pointing to a seven to eight-year lead time before competition launch.

The revised capability plan is also reiterating plans for the acquisition of tactical unmanned air vehicles for the New Zealand Army as part of a wider land force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) acquisition effort. Existing plans released in October 2006 call for a phased acquisition of multiple ISR capabilities, including UAVs, in 2009-12.

All five RNZAF Hercules are undergoing life-extension modifications by L-3 Communications Spar Aerospace of Canada.

 
© L-3 Communications Spar Aerospace

New Zealand's latest defence annual report, released on 11 October, says that the first upgraded Hercules is due to be completed by mid-2008, while the final aircraft will be delivered in mid-2011, rather than 2010 as originally planned. The upgrade was expanded in May to include fitting new electronic warfare self-protection suites.

The report says that source selection for a new training and light utility helicopters is continuing despite an extended competition phase launched in July 2005 with a revised call for tenders issued in October 2006. New Zealand defence minister Phil Goff says that a contract is expected to be in place in "the next few months".

The annual report also says RNZAF's upgrade programme for its two Boeing 757 transports is expected to result in the first modified aircraft returning to operational service in January after being inducted in March this year. The upgrade is introducing new cargo doors and multi-role spaces. The second aircraft will be handed over for modifications in November, with return to service planned for mid-2008.