By Arie Egozi in Tel Aviv

The Israeli air force is close to making a decision on whether to request the purchase of up to 12 new Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical transports in preference to pursuing an earlier plan to upgrade its current fleet of 18 C-130E/Hs and KC-130H Hercules tankers.

Air force officials will soon present their preferred option to the Israeli defence force's general staff, having received new information on the C-130J from Lockheed during a recent visit to the USA.

Earlier assessments suggested that conducting an avionics and structural upgrade to the air force's current Hercules fleet would be more economical than acquiring new platforms, but Israel-based sources say the planned project has now reached a unit price of $32 million.

The C-130J's higher sticker price of around $65 million had previously prevented serious discussion from taking place, but one air force source says the rising cost of the planned modernisation effort and new data received by the service now "makes the new aircraft option very realistic".

Israel is understood to be interested in placing an order for an initial six C-130Js, with options to acquire another six. Lockheed says it has yet to provide the country with pricing information for the proposed deal.

Source: Flight International