Lockheed Martin sees the Embraer KC-390 as a potentially serious competitor to its C-130J, but it adds that there are still many questions to be answered about the Brazilian aircraft.
Embraer, which aims to deliver the first prototype to the Brazilian air force in 2014, wants to get into the lucrative military transport market with the type. That would put it in contention against the C-130J, which it is most similar to in terms of payload and operational capability, as well as the Airbus Military A400M and Boeing C-17.
"We have to remember that the C-130J is a proven aircraft. It is capable, with its new powerplant and avionics, to meet the strategic needs and tactical needs around the world," says Ross Reynolds, Lockheed's vice-president for C-130 programmes.
"Of course, we see the KC-390 as a competitor. But the key question that Embraer has to answer is how capable really is the aircraft? We still don't know. The C-130J can go into dirt, for example. It is still to be determined if the KC-390 can do that, and it is capabilities like that which make the C-130J stand out."
Looking ahead, Reynolds says that Lockheed anticipates "good demand" for the C-130J in the coming years. The current backlog stands at 99 aircraft, but he says that there is likely to be additional orders from existing and new customers.
"We believe that there will be another 150 orders within the USA and another 100 internationally over the next 10 years," he adds. "The US Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard and Forest Service are all potential customers, while internationally we are looking at interest in the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia.
Part of the C-130J's appeal, he adds, is that Lockheed has been upgrading and modifying the aircraft since its inception several decades ago. This has kept it relevant to current market requirements and that effort will continue, he adds.
"We are constantly looking at ways to improve the aircraft. One thing we are looking at is roll-on, roll-off capability. The flexibility of the platform allows us to transit to different missions and that is something we are looking at," says Reynolds.