French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has reportedly given the green light for Paris's acquisition of four Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules transports to plug a capability shortfall caused by the Airbus Defence & Space A400M's inability to provide in-flight refuelling for helicopters.
Following an authorisation from the US state department in November 2015 to proceed with the sale, news agency Reuters quotes Le Drian, speaking during a visit to French forces stationed in Jordan, as confirming the deal will go ahead. French aircraft are deployed in the Middle Eastern nation as part of Opération Chammal, its fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
A notice published by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency in November noted Paris had requested two C-130Js and two extended-range KC-130J tankers, a spare set of four Rolls-Royce AE 2100D turboprop engines and mission equipment worth $355 million.
France also hopes to arm the type with the Lockheed AGM-114K1A Hellfire air-to-surface missile used aboard its Airbus Helicopters Tiger attack rotorcraft.
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The A400M programme has faced a number of challenges over the past year, with deliveries delayed following the May 2015 crash of customer aircraft MSN23, destined for the Turkish air force. The accident was later attributed to engine software problems.
Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets Analyzer database shows 156 of the Airbus tactical transports on order, with 21 delivered. France has received eight of a proposed 50 aircraft, the last of which, MSN31, was delivered on 22 December.
Meanwhile, a contract worth £369 million ($541 million) has been awarded to three companies to continue supporting the UK Royal Air Force’s fleet of C-130Js.
Airframer Lockheed, plus Marshall Aerospace & Defence Group and Rolls-Royce, will continue delivering the Hercules Integrated Operational Support (HIOS) until 2022 under the deal, with a large proportion to be carried out by Marshall in Cambridge, UK.
The UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, released in November, outlined the Ministry of Defence’s plans to maintain its 14-strong fleet of stretched-variant C-130Js until 2030, following a series of upgrades.
The RAF offers C-130 support to humanitarian efforts and is also using the type for military operations such as the one against IS militants in the Middle East.