US aerospace and defence group Lockheed Martin is proposing the latest version of its C-130 Hercules aircraft family, the C-130XJ, to replace the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) current force of C-130BZ airlifters and to fulfil the maritime surveillance mission. The C-130XJ is a version of the company’s new-generation C-130J series.
The C-130BZ is currently the SAAF’s largest aeroplane, fulfilling the medium/heavy transport role, but these aircraft are now almost 50 years old (the first was delivered in 1963) and are among the oldest Hercules still in operation anywhere in the world. But the SAAF’s maritime surveillance aircraft are even older, being Douglas C-47TP Dakotas, whose airframes are now almost 70 years old.
In comparison with earlier-generation Hercules, the C-130J has a new cockpit, new engines, new propellers and new avionics, giving increased speed, agility and surviv- ability as well as improved high-temperature and high-altitude performance. Its ability to fly at night and in bad weather is also much improved. It also has a new enhanced cargo handling system.
Since it entered production in 1997, 319 C-130Js have been sold, of which 248 have been delivered, leaving a produc- tion backlog of 71. The customers are Australia, Canada, Denmark, India, Iraq, Israel, Italy, (South) Korea, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, the UK (the launch customer) and the US.
The aircraft in service have accumulated 900 000 flying hours and demonstrated a mission capability of 89.3% (the design target figure was 84%) and a mean time between (equipment) failure of 6.5 hours (the design figure was 2.5 hours). The C-130J has been proven to need only 1.07 man maintenance hours per flying hour, instead of the expected four hours per flying hour.
However, Lockheed Martin discovered that not all potential customers needed the full spectrum of capabilities required by the world’s major air forces for operations in combat zones. “We listened very carefully to what our customers said to us,” highlights Lockheed Martin VP: Business Develop- ment Initiatives Dennys Plessas. “So we came up with a different con- figuration – the C-130XJ. This has a lower initial acquisition cost but 100% of the C-130J’s flight performance. It has basic military functionality, with true plug-and-play provision for growth to full military capability.”
Although more basic in its configura- tion than the C-130J – for example, it lacks the new cargo handling system – the C-130XJ can also be fitted to undertake a wide range of missions, including air-to- air refuelling and maritime surveillance. For the latter role, the aircraft can be fitted with maritime search radar and electro-optical and infrared sensors, with mission control stations either in the cockpit or (if more than two are required) in the cargo bay.
In fact, air-to-air refuelling and maritime surveillance equipment can be installed on the same airframe. (The C-130J serves in the dual air-to-air refuelling and trans- port roles with the US Marine Corps, under the designation KC-130J, and in the mari- time surveillance, search and rescue and transport roles with the US Coast Guard, as the HC-130J.)
Moreover, customer countries can supply their own systems, if they desire. “Many of these pieces of equipment are produced locally and can be supported by local industry,” points out Plessas. “The XJ has structural provisions for special mission stations.” Like the C-130J, the C-130XJ comes in standard and lengthened versions (the latter to carry greater volume, not greater weight). The aircraft is fast enough to refuel the SAAF’s Gripen fighters. “The tests have been done and the aircraft is qualified,” he assures.
“The C-130J/XJ can carry 90% to 95% of the payloads the SAAF carries,” argues Plessas. “We believe that the C-130J/XJ is the right aircraft for the SAAF. Strategic and tactical transport, maritime surveillance and air-to-air refuelling – it is more cost- effective to have one type for all these missions. “All these capabilities have been proven, and have already been developed for other customers. We believe that the C-130J/XJ can replace the C-130BZ, the C-47TP and the [already retired] Boeing 707 in the SAAF.”
Mission systems can be designed, developed and installed in South Africa. As with the C-130BZ, maintenance support can be provided by local industry with assistance from Lockheed Martin. “South Africa already has more than 50% of the required support infrastructure for the C-130J/XJ,” he stresses. “Acquisition or lease options can be developed to meet South Africa’s financial constraints.”