The C-130J Super Hercules is Lockheed Martin’s follow-on to the classic Hercules, which first flew in 1954. Over 2 000 C-130s entered service with more than 50 nations around the world, making the original Hercules the most important tactical transport outside the former Soviet Union. Given the potentially massive market for an improved successor, it was only natural that Lockheed Martin began designing what was initially known as the Hercules II.

In late 1988 Lockheed proposed an improved version of the Hercules in response to a US Military Airlift Command request. This was abandoned due to cost concerns, but in December 1991 Lockheed went ahead with the concept as a privately funded venture, and went on to spend nearly $1 billion on the project. The C-130J first flew on April 5, 1996. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification was achieved in August 1998, paving the way for deliveries soon afterwards.

Although the C-130J looks much like the original Hercules, it is a very different aircraft under the skin and has been designed to have lower operating costs and improved performance compared to its predecessor. Lockheed Martin claims its more economical operation justifies customer’s substitution of the old aircraft for the new on 30-year lifetime savings alone.

Savings are accrued through the use of new and updated technology. For example, the flight deck’s analogue gauges have been superseded by electronic displays, including head-up displays. These are certified as the pilots’ primary flight instruments. In addition, there are four colour 6×8 inch (152×203 mm) and five monochrome 2.3×3 inch (58×76 mm) LCD multipurpose displays and these show navigation, engine and flight instrumentation data. Cockpit lighting is Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible.

In the Hercules’ beak is a Northrop Grumman AN/APN-241 colour radar, which has several modes – including weather (max range: 368 miles/593 km; turbulence detection out to 57 miles/93 km); wind shear (90 second warning); ground mapping; skin paint (range: 22 miles/37 km for a C-130 sized target); flight plan, and traffic collision avoidance.

Other standard avionics includes a radar altimeter, Tacan, digital autopilot/flight director, laser INS with GPS, ground collision avoidance system, global digital map display units etc.

Making up the C-130J’s defensive system is an AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver, an AN/AAR-47 missile warning system and AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system, which can release chaff and flares as well as the POET and GEN-X active expendable decoys. Some US C-130Js are being fitted with the Large Aircraft Infra-Red CounterMeasures (LAIRCM) system while Australian C-130Js will receive it in the next couple of years.

The flight deck only accommodates the pilot and co-pilot, as the navigator and flight engineer have been replaced by advanced technology, making the new Hercules more economical to operate. Manpower requirements for a squadron of 16 aircraft are reduced by 38% due to fewer crewmembers and 50% better maintainability. The end result is that operating a squadron of C-130Js costs half as much as it does for legacy models.

Another area that benefits from improved economy are the engines, which are 15% more efficient than those on earlier models while providing 29% more takeoff thrust. Each Allison AE2100D3 turboprop is rated at 4 591 shp (3 425 kW) and is fitted with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC). Each engine drives a six-bladed (rather than a four-bladed) propeller.

Largely due to the new engines, the Super Hercules performs well in hot and high conditions, where it is able to deliver 40% better payload/range performance compared to earlier versions, such as the C-130E. In Iraq and Afghanistan this has made the Super Hercules a very useful aircraft and one C-130J sometimes does the job of three C-130Hs.

Maximum internal fuel load amounts to 5 621 gallons (25 552 l), but an additional 1 148 gallon (5 220 l) fuel tank can be carried under each wing. An inflight refuelling probe can be mounted on the left side of the fuselage, above the cockpit.

The Hercules can carry a wide variety of loads up to roughly 42 000 lb (19 090 kg), from artillery pieces to wheeled and tracked vehicles, pallets and containers. It can accommodate 92 troops, 64 paratroopers, 74 stretchers or 54 passengers on airline-style seating.

Handling cargo is easier due to the automation and simplification of various cargo handling tasks – the cargo area to be reconfigured in five minutes rather than the normal 25 minutes, and the C-130J is capable of automatic pre-programmed cargo drops.

While the Super Hercules is a great leap forward over the original C-130, and can carry 90% of US Army and Air Force equipment, it cannot carry loads greater than 44 800 pounds (20 tons), which significantly limits the type of vehicles it can carry. This puts more pressure on heavier transports like the Boeing C-17 (which is four times more expensive to operate per hour), and throws a spanner in the works for many US armoured vehicle projects.


Lockheed has developed a number of C-130J variants. The C-130J-30 is a stretched version with a 15-foot (4.57 m) longer fuselage. It can carry two more pallets (to eight), 36 more troops (for a total of 128) or 28 more paratroopers (92), 23 extra stretchers (97) or 25 more seated passengers (79). Although it can carry more, the stretched Super Hercules has less range and altitude

A psychological warfare version exists as the EC-130J ‘Command Solo III’. Seven aircraft are operated by the US Air Force’s 193rd Special Operations Wing at Harrisburg International Airport, Pennsylvania. EC-130Js became operation in late 2005. IOC was expected in 2003 but delayed due to problems in integrating a new electrical generator. EC-130Js have been deployed to the Middle East in 2005, 2007 and 2009.

The KC-130J is a tanker version developed for the US Marine Corps. It features two hose-and-drogue refuelling pods fitted under the wings. The KC-130J can offload 7 040 gallons (32 000 l) of fuel from its wing and external tanks and can carry another 2 997 gallons (13 625 l) of fuel in a fuselage tank. In April 2004 the first KC-130J was formally accepted into the US Marine Corps. First combat deployment was in Iraq in April 2005. The US Marine Corps plans to purchase up to 79 KC-130Js to replace its KC-130F/R/T fleet, but has 46 on order at the moment.

All Marine Corps KC-130Js will have the wiring needed to carry the Harvest Hawk kit, which consists of a fire-control console in the cargo hold, AN/AAQ-30 infrared and television sensor in the port underwing fuel tank and a four-missile Hellfire launcher in place of the left refuelling pod. Ten Griffen GPS-guided missiles can be mounted on the ramp. In the future, a 30 mm cannon could be mounted in the troop door, but many more weapons will be added over time. Currently, plans dictate three kits per squadron (which means nine kits by 2011 and 12 in 2012). Testing is underway and the kit has been deployed in Afghanistan since October 2010.

The HC-130J is a search and rescue variant based on the KC-130J. Lockheed Martin unveiled both the HC-130J and MC-130J in May 2008 as private ventures. The first of a planned 18 new HC-130Js was delivered to the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC) in September 2010. Initial operational capability will take place in 2012, when the new models start replacing HC-130P/Ns from the 1960s. Ultimately, the Air Force wants to purchase 78 HC-130Js to replace older models.

Six HC-130Js are operated by the US Coast Guard. The first was handed over in 2002, although it was only between 2007 and 2008 that they were fitted with ventrally mounted 360-degree search radars, nose-mounted FLIR Systems Star Safire III infrared imaging systems, direction-finding systems for detecting emergency signals, and flight deck mission operator stations. The sixth fully operational aircraft was accepted in May 2010, and will be joined by another two, which are being funded by the US Navy.

The MC-130J Combat Talon II is a Special Forces variant for the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), which plans to buy 26 MC-130Js. Ultimately, AFSOC would like to purchase 37 MC-130Js to replace its 40-year old MC-130E/Ps. The first ten aircraft are slated for delivery in 2011. Like the HC-130J, the MC-130J is capable of air-to-air refuelling and also features an extended service life wing, armour, combat systems operation station, infrared sensor and changes to the cargo handling system and boom refuelling receptacle.

The WC-130J is a weather reconnaissance version, and its main job is to collect data on cyclones and hurricanes – thanks to information from the WC-130J, hurricane predictions are 15-30% more accurate. In September 1999 the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base in Missouri received the first of eight WC-130Js, and received two more in 2000. The WC-130Js of the 53rd WRS were deployed for the first time in May 2005 when they tracked hurricane Adrian over the Pacific. In September 2005 the 53rd WRS completed conversion to the new type.

The Air Force Special Operations Command is looking to buy 16 AC-130Js to replace the last eight of its Vietnam-era AC-130H Spectre gunships, with the Air Force planning to set aside $1.6 billion over the next five years for the aircraft. Delivery of the new aircraft would take place in 2017, where they would operate alongside 17 more modern AC-130U Spooky gunships.


The Royal Air Force was the C-130J launch customer and in December 1994 bought ten short-bodied (C Mk 5) and 15 stretched (C Mk 4) Super Hercules to operate alongside its fleet of older C-130Ks. Deliveries of the C-130J-30s began in November 1999 and wrapped up in June 2001. RAF C-130Js are flown by 24 and 30 Squadrons based at RAF Lyneham, and are set to remain in service until 2030.

RAF C-130Js have been used in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. They are most heavily used in Afghanistan, where they perform short-haul tasks, primarily from the Kandahar airfield. Due to heavy use, they are showing signs of ageing – in June 2008 a UK National Audit Office report warned that wing replacement might be needed from 2012.

On February 13, 2007, a C-130J-30 was taking part in an operation in Maysaan province, Iraq, when it was damaged by IEDs placed on a semi-prepared landing strip. The heavily damaged aircraft was subsequently blown up by the RAF.

The United States is the largest C-130J operator in the world, and as of June 2010, the US Air Force had ordered 129 C-130Js and the Marine Corps 46. Lockheed Martin expects another 150 orders from the Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Navy and Forest Service. The Air Force alone plans to buy up to 168 J models to replace its older C-130Es.

The first C-130J entered the US Air Force’s inventory in February 1999 and joined the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, in May of that year. The C-130J initially got off to a rocky start with the Air Force, being deemed ‘not operationally effective’ in 2001, due mainly to initial software problems.

In July 2004 the Pentagon’s inspector general found that the Super Hercules programme was suffering from cost increases and that many of the aircraft did not meet specifications or operational requirements. Consequently, the Pentagon proposed cancelling the $4.1 billion contract as part of other budget cuts, at a cost of around $640 million. However, an Air Force report said cancellation costs would amount to $1.78 billion, whereas completing the programme would only cost another $300 million. In May 2005 the Pentagon decided to proceed with the contract. However, in June 2006 it turned out that the Air Force had overstated cancellation costs by $1.1 billion. Fortunately for Lockheed Martin, this decision helped keep the C-130J production line going.

The US Air Force first deployed the Super Hercules overseas in December 2004 when the 815th Airlift Squadron sent the C-130J to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in the region. In October 2006, Air Mobility Command announced that the C-130J had reached Initial Operational Capability.

In April 2007, the 41st Airlift Squadron at Little Rock Air Base became the first active-duty combat C-130J squadron in the US Air Force and began testing the C-130J in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. Older model Hercules are limited by range, space and payload. In Afghanistan C-130Es sometimes have to leave some cargo behind when taking off from hot and high bases like Bagram. The C-130J does not suffer from these problems and has proved itself in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq.

The US Forest Service utilises Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130Js for fire-fighting missions – but only when the civil air tanker fleet cannot cope. The C-130J made is firefighting debut in 2009 together with the Modular Airborne Fire-fighting System 2 (MAFFS 2). This consists of a 3 000 gallon (11 356 l) tank that releases liquid through a nozzle in the left paratrooper door. A rubber plug around the nozzle ensures a tight seal and allows the aircraft to remain pressurised at all times, unlike with the earlier MAFFS 1. In addition, the liquid is pressurised in flight and not on the ground, giving faster turnaround times.

Australia became the second C-130J export customer in December 1995 when it ordered 12 stretched Super Hercules to replace the 12 E models of No 37 Squadron at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Richmond, near Sydney. The total cost of the deal was US$660 million. Deliveries began in September 1999, with operational status being reached in December 2001. Australia plans to keep its C-130Js in service until 2030.

The C-130Js operate alongside the Royal Australian Air Force’s nine surviving C-130Hs at Richmond. The latter aircraft were moved from No 36 Squadron in November 2006 to make way for the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. Originally, 12 H models were bought in 1978 to replace the original 12 C-130As.

In February 2003 the RAAF sent a detachment of C-130Hs to Qatar in order to take part in the war effort in the Middle East. In 2005 they were joined by the C-130J, and have supported operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cyprus. Australia currently has three C-130Js in the United Arab Emirates, together with around 60 personnel. The J model assumed sole responsibility for Middle East operations in 2008, with the three aircraft flying approximately 150 hours per week. By March 2010 Australia’s Middle Eastern C-130s had accumulated 20 000 flying hours in over 11 000 missions, moving 140 000 troops and 68 million pounds (31 million kg) of ordnance.

In 1997 Italy ordered the first of an eventual 12 short fuselage and ten long fuselage Super Hercules to replace its ageing C-130Hs. Deliveries began in 2000 and wrapped up in February 2005. AMI C-130Js are operated by the 46th Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade) at Pisa Air Base. Six of them are operated as tankers. One was destroyed in a crash on November 23, 2009, which killed all five crewmembers on board.

Italian C-130Js have been flying in Afghanistan since February 2007 and recently clocked up 3 000 flight hours in that country, in which they have transported more than 50 000 people and nearly 11.2 million pounds (5 000 tons) of equipment in over 2 600 sorties. They are based at Herat air base.

In December 2000 Denmark ordered three C-130J-30s, the first of which was delivered in March 2004. A single C-130J-30 was ordered in July 2004 and delivered in July 2007. Denmark’s C-130Js are flown by 721 Squadron from Aalborg, and are used for tasks such as delivering peacekeeping personnel and equipment, and have operated in the Middle East, have delivered tsunami relief aid in Southeast Asia and have supported the United Nations in Africa.

In November 2007 the Royal Norwegian Air Force signed a contract for four stretched C-130J-30s as well as spares and training, at a cost of $519 million. The US government sped up the sale for Norway by processing the request in half the normal time.

The aircraft were acquired to replace Norway’s fleet of six C-130Hs, which were bought in 1969. The first was handed over in November 2008, with deliveries being wrapped up in July 2010 – two months ahead of schedule. The aircraft will enter operational service in 2011 with 335 Squadron.

In December 2007 Canada decided to order 17 C-130J-30s, at a cost of $1.4 billion. The first CC-130J (as it is known in Canada) was formally accepted in June 2010 – six months ahead of schedule. Deliveries will finish up by the end of 2012. All 17 will be based at 8 Wing Trenton, with some being deployed to support Canada’s international commitments. On January 2, 2011, the first CC-130J arrived at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan to support the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and will be followed by a second aircraft in May.

In February 2008 India ordered six C-130J-30s at a cost of $1.2 billion, to be used by the country’s Special Forces and Border Security Forces. They were bought as part of a multi-billion dollar initiative to create world-standard special operations units. The sale marks India’s first transaction with the US Foreign Military Sales system, after President Bush dropped sanctions over India’s nuclear programme. As of January 2011, Lockheed Martin is negotiating the purchase of six additional C-130Js for India.

India will receive the first aircraft in early 2011, with deliveries wrapping up before the end of the year. Indian aircraft will be equipped with a FLIR Systems AAQ-22 Star Safire III electro/optical/infrared turret for operations in blackout conditions, which is essential for anti-terrorism scenarios. Other additions include air-to-air refuelling and missile and radar warning systems. Because India will not sign certain agreements regulating sensitive avionics (such as the CISMOA and BECA agreements), the Indian aircraft will not be fitted with some communications and navigation equipment. However, negotiations regarding the avionics are ongoing.

In February 2010 Tunisia ordered two C-130J-30s to supplement its existing fleet of 1980s-era C-130Bs and Hs. They will be delivered in 2013 and 2014.

Lockheed Martin has gained many new C-130J customers in the Middle East, and this region promises more strong growth – for example, the United Arab Emirates is considering a $1.6 billion purchase of 12 C-130J-30s.

In July 2008 Iraq requested the sale of an initial four C-130J-30s to supplement its three C-130Es. A contract was signed in April 2009, and in August 2009 another two C-130J-30s were ordered.

In October 2008 Lockheed Martin announced that the Qatar Emiri Air Force had ordered four stretched C-130Js, at a cost of $393 million, including support. Deliveries are to begin in 2011.

Oman ordered a single C-130-J30 in June 2009 and another two short-bodied C-130Js in August 2010. Deliveries will run from 2012 to 2014. They will replace Oman’s three C-130Hs, which are thirty years old.

The Kuwait Air Force will receive three KC-130Js to provide air-to-air refuelling of its F/A-18 fleet and assist its three L-100s in moving cargo. The contract was announced in May 2010, and is worth $245 million. It will see deliveries beginning in late 2013 and wrapping up in early 2014.

In July 2008 Israel requested the purchase of a possible nine C-130J-30s to replace some of its ageing legacy Hercules. However, Israel only ordered a single C-130J in April 2010, at a cost of $98.6 million, $18.5 million of which is foreign military aid. The aircraft will be delivered in mid-2013. Israel is looking to acquire at least another two C-130Js and possibly another six.

The most recent C-130J order has come from South Korea. On December 2, 2010, Lockheed Martin announced the Republic of Korea Air Force had ordered four C-130J-30s. They will be delivered in 2014 and operate alongside the Air Force’s C-130Hs.

Lockheed Martin is optimistic about further C-130J sales, and estimates receiving another 150 American and 100 international orders over the next ten years. Production of the C-130J is increasing, with more than two dozen aircraft coming off the production line in 2010, versus 16 in 2009 and 12 in 2008.

With continuing delays holding back the Airbus A400M programme, the C-130J remains in a good market position as it currently has almost no direct Western competition. In fact, Lockheed Martin is confident that it will see double digit orders from countries looking for an Airbus stopgap.

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