US Navy to release C-130 avionics upgrade request

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Boeing sees itself in pole position despite cost over-runs on USAF AMP programme

Boeing expects "within weeks" to see the US Navy's delayed draft request for proposals for an avionics upgrade to up to 48 Lockheed Martin C-130 transports, and remains optimistic that its avionics modernisation programme (AMP) will give it pole position, despite recently having to explain cost over-runs on the US Air Force's C-130 AMP.

"We feel pretty good about it," says Boeing C-130 vice-president Mike Harris, who describes the navy requirement as a "draft RFP-described AMP". The USN/US Marine Corps programme, assuming it proceeds according to current plans, could also further open doors for potential upgrades to an identified international market of around 700 legacy C-130s, believes Boeing.

The USAF AMP is meanwhile continuing to gather momentum, despite the cost over-run officially flagged by the service to the US Congress in February under the terms of the Nunn-McCurdy act. "A lot of the situation that led to the breach [of the act] happened in 2005," says AMP programme manager Liz Pace. "We had to re-engage in the certification programme and it was painful, but we're just about through the end of that process." Pace says this work is expected to finish in late May.

As part of the re-certification, Boeing organised a demonstration of night vision imaging system (NVIS) compliance at Long Beach, California using H2, its first flight test aircraft. The company was required to show reduced set-up times for NVIS operations, which can take up to 30min in a current, unmodified C-130 cockpit. The demonstration, which also involved an unmodified C-130E and a new-generation C-130J, showed both the AMP-equipped H2 and theC-130J could be made ready for night vision operations "at the flick of a switch", says Harris. The difference, he adds, is that H2 is "a tenth of the cost of a J".

The second USAF AMP flight test aircraft, H2.5, has been transferred to Edwards AFB, California for further flight tests, joining a special-operations C-130 Combat Talon I engaged in AMP-related sensor package work.

The third flight test aircraft, H3, is expected to be ferried to San Antonio, Texas for modification around November, and to start tests around February. The Swedish air force's first of eight C-130Hs to be inducted for AMP modification is expected to arrive in the USA next April.