The Lockheed Martin C130J-30, the “stretched” version of the latest incarnation of the venerable C130 Hercules family, could satisfy 80 to 90% percent of the South African Air Force’ airlift requirement. The Super Hercules could also be a complete solution for the nation’s aerial refuelling, search-and-rescue as well as maritime and border patrol requirement, says Lockheed Martin’s EMEA vice president for international business development initiatives, Dennys Plessas.
Briefing journalists this morning, Plessas added his company has been marketing the new generation Super Hercules to the SAAF for some 18 months. He was at pains to stress the effort was unrelated to the cancellation by Cabinet of the acquisition of eight Airbus Military A400M strategic airlifters last November. “There is no offer or price on the table. We are just keeping a valued customer informed of developments with our product.”
The Project Continent A400M’s were originally scheduled for delivery from this year and would have with served at 60 Squadron alongside the current 28 Squadron C130BZ fleet. Contrary to popular belief, fostered somewhat by government and the SAAF, the A400M was not a replacement for the 47-year-old Hercules. It was meant to replace expensive Ilyushin Il-76 “Candid” charter flights as well as the Boeing B707-320 transport/airborne refuellers/electronic warfare aircraft, the last of which retired in July 2007.
Eight C130B-series aircraft are scheduled to remain in service until 2015. Six were acquired in 1963 and the other two were received from surplus US Air Force stocks in 1997. Until the cancellation of the A400M buy, the SAAF envisaged a transport trinity with the A400M as the heavy/strategic transport, a C130-type aircraft as a medium airlifter and a third type as a light utility aircraft. The A400M would also have returned to 60 Squadron its electronic warfare and aerial refuelling roles.
A senior air force officer noted at defenceWeb’s maritime conference in October last year that up to 13 aircraft were being sought under Project Saucepan for the lower tier to serve as both transports and as maritime patrol/security aircraft. These would replace the Douglas C47TP Dakota – in service since 1943 – as well as the comparatively new Casa C212 and Casa C235. Following the A400M cancellation, the SAAF was mandated to develop a new transport strategy. Although not in the public domain this apparently sees a two-tier fleet.
Plessas would not be drawn on this or the optimum number, previously put at around five. Plessas did venture that the stretched airframe would be a “better utility aircraft.” He also avered that having studied the local requirement his company’s analysts and operational research specialists believe the “box size”, meaning the dimensions of the cargo hold as well as the range, speed, austere environment capability and low operating cost of the Super Hercules made it the “most effective and least-cost means to deploy the SANDF (SA National Defence Force). … The C130J is an optimum solution in our opinion.”
The Lockheed Martin executive would also not be drawn on cost, saying to many variables were at play. Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman last year said the C-130J had a fly-away cost of between US$ 82 and 86 million (R606-R636 million). Plessas said Lockheed Martin was open to a direct deal, a government-to-government buy or a lease.
Lockheed Martin international business development director Edward Arner added that by the turn f the millennium some 2000 Hercules of various marques served in 60 countries. In the last decade the C130J, in all its variants, have clocked up some 650 000 flying hours.