Federal cabinet’s National Security Committee has approved the upgrade of the RAAF’s fleet of 12 C-130J Hercules transports in service with 37SQN at Richmond, but a statement from Defence Minister Senator John Faulkner makes no mention of plans to acquire a further two of the aircraft.
The $45 million upgrade will see the aircraft receive the latest Block 7.0 software load and other enhancements specified by the International C-130J User’s Group (JUG) designed to address obsolescence issues and enable the aircraft to comply with global air traffic management standards.
“The Block 7.0 upgrade will enable Australia’s fleet of C-130Js to meet new global air traffic management requirements and continue to operate in global airspace,” said Minister Faulkner in a February 25 statement. “Importantly, there is likely to be significant opportunity for Australian industry to be involved in the national installation and support of the upgrade. Funding for these elements will be considered by government following successful testing of the first modification kit on an Australian C-130J.”
However, no mention was made of the extra two C-130Js for the RAAF that were flagged in last year’s Defence White Paper as a partial replacement for the RAAF’s ageing C-130H model Hercules, and Defence sources indicate that this proposal, while remaining a program of record, may have lost favour in RAAF circles. While the additional J models would bring some commonality and thus economies of scale to Air Lift Group’s (ALG’s) transport fleet, the new aircraft would also be more than 15 years younger than the existing J models by the time they enter service and will thus have some key hardware differences. There was also no mention of the future of the C-130H fleet, which is rapidly ageing and likely to be beyond any economical longer term upgrade.
In the meantime, rumours continue to persist that the RAAF is keen to acquire one and possibly two more C-17 transports, as the current four aircraft fleet has been in high demand since entering service in 2006. But with the short to medium term future of Boeing’s C-17 line being in doubt, any follow-on order would likely need to be placed within the next 12 months.