The UK Ministry of Defence must fund a refurbishment project for the outer wings of up to 10 of the Royal Air Force's 24 Lockheed Martin C-130Ks if the tactical transports are to achieve their planned out-of-service date, according to a new solicitation document released by the UK Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO).
Expected to be retired from 2010-12 and replaced by 25 Airbus Military A400Ms, the RAF's C-130K fleet entered service from 1966 and is currently employed supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Manufactured to Lockheed's C-130E standard, the type's outer wings underwent refurbishment by Marshall Aerospace in the 1970s, but the DLO says that "between five and 10 sets of wings now require further refurbishment to reach the aircraft out-of-service date". This stems from "an increased rate of outer wing fatigue experienced during recent operations," it adds.
The new work package is unrelated to an ongoing safety upgrade initiated following the combat loss of RAF C-130K XV179 over Iraq in January 2005. An undisclosed number of the UK's Hercules are being equipped with explosion-suppressant foam to prevent a fuel-air explosion should a fire affect their wing fuel tanks, and the first modified aircraft has already been returned to service. Conducted at Marshall Aerospace's Cambridge airport site for an estimated unit cost of £600,000 ($1.1 million), the work involves accessing the outer wing box area.
The DLO says: "The [outer wing box] work will include salvage and re-use of existing wing components such as flaps, leading edges and wing tips where possible." Secondhand and new wing boxes could also be acquired, it says. Expressions of interest are sought by 18 October from companies qualified to conduct the refurbishment. A formal invitation to tender will be issued around 20 November, with responses due by 20 December. The project will cost an estimated £20-100 million and take between 18-24 months to complete, the DLO says.
Northrop says the measure will "increase responsiveness to support issues" which arise during the system's operational use.