SAAF evaluating offer of acquiring ex-US C-130H Hercules

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The United States has offered South Africa retired C-130H Hercules transport aircraft to replace its ageing C-130BZ fleet, with the South African Air Force (SAAF) presently considering the offer.

Africa Intelligence reported that the United States is offering a dozen 1980s-era C-130H transports under the Excess Defence Articles (EDA) programme.

“A team of South African Air Force technicians travelled to the United States last month (September) to scout available equipment and exchange views with their US Air Force (USAF) counterparts,” the publication reported.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier cautioned that the extremely low South African National Defence Force (SANDF) budget is the main limitation in pursuing this. He added that there are a number of factors that go into deciding whether to take up the US offer, including the fact that the C-130Hs would need upgrades before entering SAAF service.

“What’s presently unknown is whether the USAF has offered any grants for the aircraft (nominally +/- $12 million each) and the necessary upgrades. That’ll change the calculus dramatically, of course. My understanding is that a full grant is not on offer, but there may be discounts.”

Olivier noted that “no decision has yet been made, as it will depend on the post-inspection report and whether this does turn out to be more cost effective than upgrading the existing C-130BZs.”

In May this year, the Department of Defence revealed that it was exploring upgrading the C-130BZ Hercules fleet at a cost of R1.6 billion. Defence Minister Thandi Modise also revealed that the United Kingdom had offered to sell South Africa surplus C-130J Super Hercules, while the US was offering excess C-130Hs.

The SAAF considered three options, Modise explained. The first was to spend no money and decline the purchase of second hand aircraft and not upgrade the current C-130BZ fleet – this would mean aircraft lifespan terminates in 2024.

The second was also to decline the purchase offer and upgrade aircraft currently in 28 Squadron’s inventory, returning to service “the rest of the fleet”. Upgrade cost is estimated at R1.6 billion for five aircraft presently in service aircraft and one in long term storage. This would enable the C-130BZs to remain airworthy until 2040, Modise stated.

The third option is to accept the US offer and simultaneously upgrade the current fleet of five aircraft for R1.6 billion. Second-hand C-130H models would be able to serve until 2028 and the C-130BZs until 2040.

“The SAAF considered option two,” Modise stated at the time, adding that the door for additional Hercules transports was not completely closed.

Either way, the SAAF will have to spend money to maintain a Hercules capability. It will now have to determine whether spending R1.6 billion on upgrades is cheaper or more expensive than refurbishing excess C-130Hs. It is likely that a decision on the US offer will be reached in a few weeks’ time.