By Craig Hoyle in London 

The UK Ministry of Defence has signed a contract with Marshall Aerospace covering the installation of explosion suppressant foam (ESF) on an undisclosed number of the Royal Air Force’s Lockheed Martin C-130J/K transports.

“Explosion suppressant foam will be fitted to some C-130 aircraft, concentrating on the aircraft that operate in the highest threat environment,” the MoD says. The ministry declines to reveal how many aircraft are to receive the safety upgrade initially, but says the first will be ready to be deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq “within the next couple of months”.

Intended to reduce the risk of an explosion in the C-130’s wing fuel tanks, the ESF enhancement was among the key recommendations of a Board of Inquiry report into the loss of an RAF C-130K Hercules to hostile fire in Iraq in January 2005. The modification work – which Marshall Aerospace confirms is already under way at its Cambridge airport site – will cost £600,000 ($1.1 million) to implement per aircraft.

The MoD says it has conducted numerous defensive aids system upgrades to its Hercules fleets since 2001, but that before the C-130 crash in Iraq “it was judged that there was a low risk of a fuel tank explosion”.

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■ The UK is to launch a new aircraft self-protection technology demonstration programme worth up to £10 million. To start in October 2006, the two-year effort seeks to produce four infrared missile warning units similar in size and unit cost to the UK’s current AAR-47 ultraviolet missile warners. Bids from UK-based companies were sought by the MoD by late last month.

Flight International's operations and safety editor's first operational squadron as a pilot was the Royal Air Force's transport No 70 Squadron, traditionally designated LXX. He blogs from its 90th anniversary party on what fellow LXX alumni think about the squadron's Hercules operations around the world and the UK defence ministry's plans to fit fuel tank intering systems as a safety measure.

Audio download:
Flight International's defence editor Craig Hoyle was interviewed earlier this month on British Forces Broadcasting Service Radio 2 about the plans to beef up the protection for the RAF's Hercules fleet.  Hear Craig's interview here from the Glen Mansell Interview programme.

Source: Flight International