Armscor details SAAF C-130BZ Hercules upgrade progress

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Marshall Aerospace in the United Kingdom will complete upgrade work on the first South African Air Force (SAAF) C-130BZ Hercules transport at the end of next year as the SAAF tries to ensure the fleet remains serviceable.

National Treasury allocated R1 billion in the 2023/24 financial year for rejuvenating the SAAF’s medium airlift transport capability. Armscor, in a presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) last month, said Marshall Aerospace received a R470 million contract to install Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS B) transponders and replace the secondary flight display systems on C-130BZs 409 and 405 as well as complete major maintenance work.

Tail number 409 departed South Africa on 8 August and arrived in the United Kingdom on the 11th, with work to be completed in December 2024. Tail number 405 will be completed ten months after delivery to Marshall Aerospace. Following testing and verification of these modifications on the first aircraft, Marshall will supply Denel with service bulletin kits containing all parts, components and instructions needed to perform the same modifications on four additional C-130 aircraft in South Africa. Marshall will train Denel and SAAF technicians on the modification implementation processes.

Armscor revealed that the balance of the additional funding (R490 million) will be utilised for the servicing of at least eight engines for the C-130BZ fleet, while Armscor is also placing a contract worth R40 million for aircraft spares.

R75 million of the SAAF budget for 2023/24 is being allocated to Denel Aeronautics for C-130BZ maintenance, with the contract valid from January 2023 to end December 2025. These funds will be used for the servicing of aircraft, procurement of spares, repair of components and calibration of Ground Support & Test Equipment (GS&TE). Armscor noted that “C-130BZ product supply support (PSS) contracted to Denel from January 2023 to December 2025 is worth R500 million, but only R177 million is funded.”

While Denel has had trouble fulfilling SAAF maintenance contracts, Armscor reported that the company’s liquidity challenges have been easing and Denel is paying its contractors without the assistance of Armscor.

However, the period to service aircraft at Denel’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility has been longer than expected due to their only being one MRO bay whereas two bays are required at minimum, and there is a shortage of serviceable engines. “High level meetings with the SAAF have been initiated to address these challenges.” It is planned for Denel to build a second Hercules servicing bay.

All told the SAAF plans to upgrade six long-serving Hercules transports, with each upgrade expected to take in the region of 18 months.

Marshall Aerospace in the early 2000s worked on the SAAF Hercules fleet under Project Ebb, among others fitting digital avionics, giving the aircraft so-called “glass cockpits”. Marshall Aerospace added a digital autopilot, flight displays, a navigation systems upgrade, communications and self-defence integration and enhancements to the electrical generation system. Three aircraft were upgraded in the UK and the remaining six in South Africa by Denel. Since the completion of these upgrades, in-country maintenance of the fleet has been performed by Denel.

Fully upgrading and maintaining all six remaining C-130s (the SAAF had nine serviceable examples but two have been written off in accidents and one has been cannibalised for spares) will cost just over R4 billion but it’s not clear how or if this will be funded.