The ADF is set to fast-track the acquisition of an expanded fleet of new Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules transports to replace the current C-130Js that have been in service since 1999.

The RAAF’s 12 current C-130J-30s entered service between 1999 and 2001 and replaced the 12 C-130Es Hercules of 37SQN which had entered service in 1968. Australia’s C-130Js were built to an early US-common specification without many of the more advanced cargo-handling, navigation, and other systems that have since become standard fit on the Hercules.

The RAAF has enjoyed 64 years of accident-free Hercules operations, operating 12 each of the C-130A, E, H, and J models, and it looks likely that will continue with as many as 30 new-build C-130Js planned to be acquired under Project AIR 7404. The current C-130Js have been worked hard, with an almost continuous deployment to the Middle East of two aircraft at a time from 2008 to 2020, and expanded roles at home.

The 2020 Force Structure Plan FSP said, “an expanded replacement fleet for the C-130J Hercules aircraft to improve the lift capacity of the ADF in response to growing demand for these assets,” would be acquired, with funding of between $8.8bn and $13.2bn planned to commence in at the end of this decade. But this appears to have been accelerated.

Industry sources indicate the expanded fleet will not only cover the expanded air mobility requirement, but may also see the Leonardo C-27J Spartan replaced in the battlefield airlifter role for which it has been proven unsuitable. As an ‘orphan’ operator of the C-27J in the cancelled US Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) configuration, the 10-strong Spartan fleet has suffered from configuration-management, integration, and availability issues which has seen it essentially relegated to domestic peacetime tactical transport duties, and HADR and diplomatic support missions in PNG and the southwest Pacific region.

The expanded Hercules fleet will reportedly include between six and eight KC-130Js which will provide a hose and drogue refuelling capability for RAAF Super Hornets and Growlers as well as allied hose and drogue capable fixed and rotary-winged aircraft. While current and planned ADF helicopters are not air-refuellable, it may be a future option to retrofit Army’s UH-60M Black Hawk and CH-47F Chinook helicopters with the capability, or may shape forward planning for any Future Vertical Lift capabilities the ADF may acquire.

The KC-130J also has a strike role in US Marine Corps service in its Harvest Hawk configuration, with a sophisticated sensor and communications suite and a palletised roll-on roll-off fire control console. This give it an ability to provide armed-overwatch of forces on the ground, and employ precision AGM-114 Hellfire, or AGM-176 Griffin and GBU-44 Viper strike missiles against vehicles and non-hardened targets from wing racks and a ‘Derringer Door’ launcher mounted in the side paratroop door respectively.

With the implementation of the Defence Strategic Review in July, it is understood a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) request will likely go through the US approval process before the end of 2022, and a government decision and announcement on whether to proceed with program has been deferred until the Review reports in early 2023.

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  1. The Spartans have proved unsuccessful in the battlefield role. However in times of war that sort of thinking goes out the windows.

  2. This article is interesting and informative but leaves a notion of confusion as to what model the RAAF is actually contemplating. Nowhere in the article does it mention C-130J-30 for existing or proposed replacement. As for the six to eight KC-130Js, will they be the stretch model or standard build?

    I am also interested in finding out what makes the Spartan C-27J unsuitable and how it was proven to be unsuitable. I have not heard of anything about this and when chatting with aircrew at displays etc, they seem happy with the aircraft.

    • I’ll have to take those C-130 questions on notice and ask a specialist. Regarding Spartan, statements from the RAAF indicate that they are unhappy with the aircraft’s EWSP and do not regard it as being up to the standard required for combat deployments. I have no idea what this means, though I note we (the Australian taxpayer) ended up paying a ridiculous amount of money for the aircraft because of a Defence decision to buy them FMS and then spend another $600 million to install the EWSP suite that is now unsuitable.


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