UK to weigh up threat to Lockheed C-130K Hercules with eye to defences

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RAF’s future A400Ms also vulnerable to ground fire

The UK Ministry of Defence continues to give “serious consideration” to equipping its transport aircraft with wing-fire inerting systems, following a recommendation in the board of inquiry (BOI) report into the loss of a Royal Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130K Hercules in Iraq last year.

Flight International can, meanwhile, reveal that the UK is the only launch nation involved in the Airbus Military A400M programme not to have funded the installation of the safety equipment as part of its production order. “The [A400M] common standard aircraft does not come fitted with a fuel tank inerting system,” says the MoD. “Fuel tank inerting was not selected by the UK prior to, or after, contract signature.”

Airbus Military sources confirm that all other programme launch customers – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey – have selected the equipment for their 155 aircraft. The UK also previously removed defensive countermeasures equipment from all but nine of its 25 A400Ms, reducing procurement costs by around £240 million ($417 million).

An RAF C-130K – XV179 – was lost in Iraq early last year after enemy action started a fire in its starboard outer wing. The aircraft crashed following an explosion in its number 4 fuel tank, killing all 10 personnel aboard. Last December, the MoD revealed that RAF Hercules had been hit in the wing by ground fire in two earlier incidents, but said the type’s “apparent resilience” meant modifications had not been sought (Flight International, 13-19 December 2005).

“The MoD is giving serious consideration to the recommendations of the BOI into the crash of XV179 and has been urgently looking into the fitting of explosion suppressant foam [ESF] to Hercules aircraft,” it says. “Any decision to procure such a system will take into account the time it would take to fit, the Hercules fleet’s remaining service life, the impact on operations and the likely effectiveness of ESF in preventing a recurrence of this kind of loss. The same level of consideration is being given to fitting fuel tank inerting to A400M.”

The MoD plans to phase its 25 C-130Ks out of service from 2008 and to continue operations of 25 C-130Js beyond 2030. The A400M will be declared operational during 2011, with the delivery of the RAF’s seventh aircraft. The MoD declined to say when a decision will be made on whether to add the safety equipment, or to provide an estimated cost for a fleet-wide enhancement.

CRAIG HOYLE / LONDON