Change of government brings re-evaluation of whether to upgrade or add to air force’s existing Hercules fleet

The change of government in Chile has further delayed key decisions on the planned acquisition of up to three Airbus Military A400M airlifters and requirements to purchase new helicopters for the air force, army and navy. The political change comes as the programmes continue to undergo extensive requirements reviews.

Chile’s previous administration signed a letter of intent for the A400M in mid-2005, but a major airlift review now under way is understood to include reconsideration of options for an upgrade of the Chilean air force’s current Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules, the purchase of additional secondhand C-130Hs or proceeding with the planned A400M order. The review is also encompassing potential replacement of the air force’s presidential transport with a dual-use aircraft, and the proposed acquisition of in-flight refuelling aircraft to support the service’s Lockheed F-16C/D Block 50 fighters.

New Chilean president and former defence minister Michelle Bachelet only took office on 11 March, after national election results in December necessitated a run-off vote in January.

Airbus Military remains optimistic that an A400M deal will proceed, and says negotiations “are continuing” on a deal for two or three aircraft. This includes joint exploration of workshare, but on commercial aircraft opportunities rather than the A400M. As currently proposed, Chile would not receive its aircraft until around 2018. However, the air force is concerned that it is already losing transport capability and is pushing for nearer-term solutions.

Lockheed revealed at FIDAE that it also formally proposed a three aircraft C-130J lease package to the air force last September and is also discussing upgrade options for Chile’s C-130Bs. The company says discussions “are continuing right now” on both options.

Boeing has also confirmed that it is participating in the Chilean review process. It says it has briefed the air force on a variety of options, ranging from C-17 airlifters to potential Chilean adoption of the US Air Force’s C-130 Avionics Modernisation Programme upgrade, for which Boeing is prime contractor.

Meanwhile, Chile’s former joint military helicopter programme has been disbanded, with police requirements proceeding separately. The military requirement is focusing on a common medium-lift capability for the air force and army, and a common light utility helicopter for the army and navy.

Source: Flight International