Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

An Australian Air Force follow-on purchase of Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules airlifters is in doubt after a decision by Australian Defence Force capability planners to consider alternative solutions. These include the Boeing C-17 and the Airbus A400M future large aircraft.

Australia has options on 27 additional C-130Js as part of its 1996 purchase of 12 aircraft, although it is unlikely that they will all be exercised, as the contract for seven early warning platforms was subsequently awarded to Boeing using the 737. Another eight were to be tankers, although a recommendation has been made to drop turboprop solutions (Flight International, 15-21 September). The option remains valid until 2002 and includes provisions for the purchase of up to eight aircraft by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The first RAAF C-130J was delivered earlier this month.

The RAAF has been assessing either a life extension programme for its 12 C-130Hs before the aircraft become time expired in 2008, or the 1996 contract option.

However, according to the head of the RAAF's Air Lift Group, Air Cdre Roxley McLennan, more C-130Js are "not the only option".

Studies within the Australian Defence Headquarters, he says, are looking at "the entire airlift requirement and sorting out the various options that are available to us to give us a mix of transport aircraft which better meets our future needs".

The shift to the examination of other types comes in the wake of long term lobbying by Boeing and Airbus Military Company for consideration of the C-17 and the A400M, respectively. Both companies have provided extensive briefings on the use of the two aircraft, either as strategic airlifters or to meet the RAAF's tanker needs.

According to McLennan, "decisions need to be made fairly soon" on the future of the C-130H, with the Defence Headquarters studies expected to make key recommendations on whether an upgrade of the aircraft is carried out.

RAAF plans for a follow-on C-130J purchase call for a contract to be finalised by mid-2003 with deliveries starting in 2005-6.

Source: Flight International