Six-year, $4 billion contract from US Air Force and Marine Corps covers 40 transports and 20 tankers

Lockheed Martin has begun work on the next block upgrade for the C-130J, to be funded out of cost savings accruing from the just-signed multi-year procurement contract for 60 US Air Force and US Marine Corps aircraft. The six-year, $4 billion contract, under which the USAF will receive 40 CC-130J transports and the USMC 20 KC-130J tankers, will result in cost savings of more than $500 million.

The US Air Force will buy eight stretched CC-130Js a year beginning in fiscal year 2004, while the Marine Corps will purchase four KC-130Js this year, then four a year from FY05-FY08. According to Lockheed Martin, the deal will reduce flyaway unit cost by 11% and stabilise production at 12 aircraft a year.

Lockheed Martin is now developing a Block 5.4 upgrade, to be introduced into production in the first half of the multi-year programme, says Jack O'Banion, director tactical mobility requirements. Block 5.4 is a "significant enhancement to communications, navigation and identification functionality". It includes a new APX-119 IFF transponder and 8.33kHz VHF radios.

The company expects to be under USAF contract for Block 5.4 development by the third quarter, and the USMC is expected to participate. O'Banion says there is "significant" interest from international C-130J operators in Block 5.4, and possible development cost sharing. C-130Js operational with Australia, Italy and the UK are currently at the same Block 5.3 "go to war" standard as US aircraft.

Discussions about a Block 6.0 configuration have begun, says O'Banion, and the next upgrade step is due to be defined by year- end. The upgrade will be divided into phases tied to implementation of the civil global air traffic management architecture.

The US Air Force plans to acquire 168 C-130Js, including 10 WC-130J weather-reconnaissance and eight EC-130J Command Solo special-mission aircraft. Of that total, 37 had been ordered and 32 delivered before the multi-year deal was signed.

The US Marine Corps plans to buy 59 KC-130Js, of which 13 had been ordered before the latest deal was concluded.

Source: Flight International