Lockheed Martin will develop a cheaper variant of the C-130J Super Hercules that removes several features from the tactical airlifter's basic design.

The C-130XJ will be offered to foreign and US customers that do not need certain advanced features of the standard J-model, including its enhanced cargo handling system, said Jim Grant, Lockheed's vice president of business development for mobility and special operations.

Grant cited the US Forest Service and South Africa as potential domestic and foreign buyers of the C-130XJ.

Lockheed could also propose the new variant to the US Air Force. Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, has warned that the USAF is considering the cancellation of the L-3 Communications/Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan.

Asked if the C-130XJ could be proposed as a substitute for the C-27J's direct support mission, Grant referred the question to the customer.

"There, the air force would have to do obviously the trade [studies] on commonality," Grant said. "There's no question the XJ will be an enormously capable airplane - maybe not as capable as the C-130J, but very close."

The C-130XJ will keep the same Rolls-Royce AE2100 turboprop engines and Honeywell-based avionics suite of the standard model, so its performance will be nearly identical. The new variant will also have the same outer-mould line as the J model, Grant said.

Lockheed did not provide details of the internal changes, except for the removal of the C-130J's automated cargo handling system. Instead, the XJ's crews will have to manually load and lock cargo to the floor of the aircraft.

The C-130XJ represents the latest iteration of the 57-year-old Hercules design. Lockheed hopes the refresh will allow the C-130 model to remain in production for the next 15-20 years.

It has also unveiled a notional design concept for a C-130NG, which features a new nose, tail and the addition of winglets to a familiar-looking Hercules fuselage.

The C-130NG design represents changes Lockheed believes are feasible for a replacement aircraft that would emerge after 2030. But some of the new design features, including the winglets, could be added as incremental improvements to the C-130J in the short-term.

"Any of the energy efficiency initiatives that are currently being worked could easily buy their way on the current programmes," Grant said.

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Source: Flight International