Lockheed Martin continues to offer its C-130J Super Hercules to meet the South African Air Force’s tanker, transport and maritime patrol requirements, this time in line with 2014 Defence Review recommendations.
Ray Fajay, Director, Air Mobility Business Development at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in a media briefing in Pretoria yesterday said his company was here primarily as a result of the recently concluded defence review which outlines the defence ministry’s priorities. He said that it identifies three areas where Lockheed Martin can have discussions with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF): airlift, air-to-air refuelling and maritime patrol.
Lockheed Martin believes the only replacement for the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) nine C-130BZ is C-130Js, which feature digital avionics, integrated defensive aids suite, new engines and propellers and in flight refuelling capability as well as all round greater performance. Fajay pointed out that the stretched C-130J-30 carries 15 tons 66% further than the BZ under hot and high conditions (1 340 vs 805 nautical miles). Fajay said that although the BZs are very well maintained, they are getting old and will have to be replaced at some stage. “In South Africa the C-130J meets and exceeds the gaps outlined in the Defence Review. We believe the C-130J is the right answer for South Africa.” Lockheed has had some general discussions on the J model with the SAAF, which is “intrigued”. However, there has been no talk of RFIs, RFPs, RFQs or a set timeline on C-130BZ replacement. The BZs are expected to serve until around 2020.
Lockheed emphasised the fact that after the Boeing 707s were retired the SAAF was left without an aerial refuelling capability, making it harder to deploy the Gripens across Africa if required. The Gripens had to make refuelling stops on the ground when they were required to go to the Central African Republic during the Battle of Bangui.
Fajay said the SC-130J Sea Hercules would be ideal to support the SAAF’s maritime surveillance/patrol requirements and replace its 70 year old C-47TPs. This variant can be fitted with ESM (electronic support measures) equipment, six torpedoes, infrared sensors, maritime surveillance radar, sonobuoys, magnetic anomaly detector and four anti-shipping missiles. A single Sea Hercules would be able to patrol all three of South Africa’s exclusive economic zones in one mission, according to Lockheed.
Fajay asked what South Africa’s response would be if there was another Malaysia Airlines type crash in the Indian Ocean and the SAAF had to search for wreckage. Tying that into Operation Phakisa, the government’s initiative to stimulate the ocean economy, Fajay said that makes the C-130J an asset to help enforce the law, with one aircraft performing three missions (maritime surveillance, transport and refuelling).
Although Lockheed Martin refurbishes P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, if South Africa decided to acquire second hand P-3s for maritime surveillance, it would have to approach the US government about acquiring ex-US aircraft as P-3 production ended many years ago.
Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman earlier this year stated that a King Air or something similar in a proper maritime surveillance configuration would be ideal for monitoring the mainland exclusive economic zone and could in the interim also help support the frigates in the Mozambique Channel.
“But we will also need a long-range/high-endurance type for the islands and for the SASAR [South African Search and Rescue Organisation] requirement, for which the actual maritime C-130 would be ideal, pretty much the only type with the range and endurance that we can more or less afford. And those could also be used for airborne command post work and – after a respray – long-range SF [Special Forces] operations and as a back-up to the airlifter fleet in a crisis. And only then should we think of a full-blown MPA [Maritime Patrol Aircraft] with ASW [Anti-Submarine Warfare] capability et al.
“At the moment anyone who believes that we have a maritime surveillance capability is indulging in magnificent self-delusion – neither the C-47TPs nor the C-130s have the necessary capabilities,” Heitman stated.
However, if the budget was there, Heitman, who formed part of the Defence Review committee, would like to see jet powered Boeing P-8s meet the SAAF’s maritime patrol requirements. “I cannot think of any other aircraft – other than the P-8 – that has the range and endurance for the SASAR mission – halfway to Argentina, all the way to the Antarctic and a good way towards Australia. Something like a Q400 could probably handle the Marion mission if the crews are willing to fly a twin that far out with nowhere to go and sometimes fickle winds.”
The C-130BZs are the transport workhorses of the SAAF, with the type in service for half a century with 28 Squadron, the SAAF’s only dedicated medium lift transport unit. Examples of what the ageing, but willing, workhorses have achieved during their decades in service include delivering freight in support of Operation Copper, the counter-piracy tasking in the Mozambique Channel, as well as delivering materiel and much-needed equipment to the Central African Republic capital of Bangui in March 2013. The squadron also supports South African peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan and a 28 Squadron aircraft was also tasked with a flight to Malta during the 2012 Arab spring uprising to bring home South Africans who fled diplomatic missions in North African countries.
According to Heitman, if South Africa intends to play a regional role, it needs heavy-lift/long-range transports, and a type that can also fly into small airfields. He believes the C-130J “does not have the range to be effective in response to a serious crisis along the edge of the SADC [Southern African Development Community]; it cannot transport any medium combat vehicles at all, and I do not want to send our troops out in Mambas against people with twin 14.5 mm and twin 23 mm weapons; and it cannot accommodate an Oryx or Rooivalk without them being stripped down to where you need 24 hours, a gantry flown in in another aircraft, and a test flight before it is operational. We should, of course have kept the C-160s.”
Regarding other options, Heitman believes the Antonov An-70 is a great aircraft on paper, “but a Ukrainian design that is lighter and cheaper than the A400M yet has 10 ton greater lift makes me a tad suspicious: If it looks too good to be true, it usually is. More important is whether it will ever go into real production without a Russian order, which is hardly likely to materialise; and whether our government would want to offend Mr Putin by buying anything from the Ukraine.”
On the Ilyushin Il-76, which has been chartered by the SAAF to get supplies to places like the DRC, Heitman notes that the internal cabin dimensions and the very steep ramp angle make it hardly better than a C-130 unless there is unloading equipment at the delivery end. “Some taller things have to be loaded using the on-board crane – the ramp angle is too steep to clear the roof – and that can, I believe, only be done safely with wind speeds of less than 3 knots or so. And the aircraft is too big and heavy for many of the smaller airfields, apart from being a turbofan that I would not want to fly into a gravel field. Finally read the Indian Air Force comments on the Il-76 – they have the model with the new turbofans that would go into a new variant – and are not impressed with ‘hot and high’ performance or service life.”
He notes that the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is out of the question as it is too large and heavy to fly into anything much less than a major airport.
Heitman believes the Airbus Defence and Space A400M Atlas is the SAAF’s best airlift option. “I understand that Germany has offered SA some of their early slots and also offered to provide government-to-government financing. Still vastly more expensive than it would have been had we stayed with the original fixed-price contract, but probably the only practical option if SA wants to play a regional role.”
“It all comes back to the core question: Does SA want to play a regional role (I believe we should – it is in our own self interest to have a stable, secure and prosperous neighbourhood) or not? If the answer is yes, we need to find the money to do the job properly. If we cannot do that, we need to wind our neck in an stay at home. I do not accept the idea of sending out troops in too small numbers and too lightly armed for the situation they might or will face.
“If we are not going to play a regional role, we do not need either a heavy lifter or C-130 type aircraft. All we need then is a light transport in the C-27J class for SF operations and some casevac missions. One day when the DF is cash flush – some hope! – we can look at the luxury of a type like the C-130 to fit between the A400M and C-27J. Buying C-130s as airlifters would be like a trucking company that needs 10-ton trucks going out and buying 5-ton trucks – and paying almost as much for those trucks that it cannot use for its primary work,” Heitman stated.
If South Africa ordered C-130Js today, it would take around three years before deliveries could begin. Unit cost would be about $80 million, but this would vary depending on equipment fit.
Further encouragement for South Africa to operate the C-130J is the fact that Denel Aviation runs the only accredited Hercules service centre in Africa. This serves some of the 120 legacy model Hercules on the continent.
At the moment 367 C-130Js in 17 different versions have been ordered by 19 operators around the world.
Regarding other C-130J opportunities in Africa, Fajay noted that Tunisia is to date the only continental Super Hercules operator, with two aircraft, but that Lockheed Martin is in discussions with a number of different countries regarding the J model. Last year the C-130J was demonstrated to Angola and the type has been demonstrated by the US Air Force in Morocco, Algeria and Nigeria in the past.
Lockheed Martin also sees strong civil demand for the LM-100J as the large L-100 fleet in Africa is in need of recapitalisation. ASL Aviation, the parent company of South African air services operator Safair, in July 2014 signed the LM-100J’s launch order with a letter of intent for ten of the aircraft. Safair is the largest L-100 operator, with nine examples. Lockheed expects a formal contract to be announced soon.