Airbus military airlifter catches Australia's eye, but is unlikely to meet deadline

Australia is unlikely to exercise its Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules options, with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) revealing that the US company has rejected efforts to extend the deadline for extending the 24 options.

RAAF officials also reveal that they are now looking favourably at the Airbus Military A400M as an alternative to the C-130J to replace its C-130Hs, although the European aircraft is not expected to meet Australia's timescales.

RAAF Airlift Group commander Air Cdre Roger Harrison says Australia expects a major strategic lift increase with the planned purchase in the next two years of five in-flight refuelling tankers with transport capability.

While the RAAF is still far from deciding about the future of its C-130Hs, he says emerging requirements point to a need to "look at something between the tanker's capability and the C-130 capability and I think A400M fits that mould, if it comes to fruition".

But he adds: "I don't think that the A400M timeline suits the C-130H replacement at this stage unless you extend the H's [life]."

Australia is seeking to replace or upgrade its 12 C-130Hs between 2004 and 2008. The first A400Ms are not planned to be delivered until 2008-09.

The RAAF has 24 C-130J options as part of its 1996 deal for 12 aircraft. Planning at the time proposed replacing the RAAF's C-130Hs with Js, but a revised 10-year capability plan released in June last year slipped a decision by 12 months to the first half of next year and provided forward funding of only A$500 million ($276 million).

A new Australian Defence Force airlift study was launched earlier this year to examine the C-130H's future. It will also make recommendations on the RAAF's stalled light tactical airlifter project and heavy-lift rotary wing requirements.

According to the head of Australia's C-130J acquisition project office, Wg Cdr Bruce Skipworth, the C-130J options expire on 1 January next year. "We haven't abandoned it. We've asked for an extension, but Lockheed didn't want to do that, so we have six months left."


Source: Flight International