The Department of Defence (DoD) is exploring upgrading the SA Air Force (SAAF) C-130BZ Hercules fleet at a cost of R1.6 billion.
According to a reply to a parliamentary question by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, “a Required Operational Capability (ROC) is in process for the upgrade of the current C-130 fleet.”
Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence minister, in another question, asked Modise about Armscor’s discussions to acquire second-hand C-130s based on known approaches to Armscor by both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and US Air Force (USAF). It asks, in part, if she and/or Armscor “considered discussions” with Lockheed Martin and the two air forces “for support to acquire new and/or well-maintained aircraft”. This would, in Marais’ view give the SAAF a serviceable fleet of “at least six to seven aircraft”.
The American offer was in the form of correspondence from the US Embassy Office of Defence Co-operation (ODC) offering Hercules C-130H models through the excess defence articles (EDA) programme. “This letter was sent to the CSANDF and routed to CAF.”
The SAAF considered three options. The first, according to Modise, 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.
The third option is to accept the purchase offer from the United States at R228 million per aircraft 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 in her reply to Marais.
She added that the door for additional Hercules transports is not completely closed, stating that Armscor “indicated” to Lockheed Martin it awaits the Department of Defence (DoD) restarting the acquisition process. This is because “any new requirement will be satisfied through an open bid process” depending on the user requirement statement.
“Armscor,” she further told the DA defence watchdog, “has been approached by the UK Embassy [should be High Commission] about potential used C-130s available”. This will not happen “due to no budget for the acquisition of the assets”.