The Royal New Zealand Air Force is to upgrade its five Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules airlifters rather than buy new aircraft, although it will replace its Boeing 727s with 757-200s.

New Zealand defence minister Mark Burton says the decision to upgrade the C-130Hs rather than exercise options for new C-130Js, followed a study that concluded that an extra 15 years' service is feasible and cost effective.

The upgrade is expected to cost NZ$100-170 million ($50-85 million), whereas new C-130Js would cost over NZ$1 billion. Burton also cites unspecified "recognised operational shortfalls" with the C-130J.

A C-130H upgrade tender is expected to be released early next year with the work starting in 2004, after the completion of modifications to the 757s. The Hercules upgrade will include new communications and navigation systems.

The 757s will be dual role and are expected to enter service in mid-2003.

Source: Flight International