australian aviation logo

Defence says ‘lessons learnt’ as it commits to Hercules

written by Adam Thorn | November 2, 2022

The cockpit of a RAAF C-130J Hercules blends the near 70-year-old design of the original with super modern tech (Defence)

Defence has committed to “replacing and expanding” its current fleet of 12 C-130J Hercules with newer versions of the same aircraft.

In what could be interpreted as a swipe at problems with the Spartan, the department said lessons had been learned from previous major acquisitions.

Having been manufactured for more than 60 years, the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules is the longest continuously produced military aircraft.

In total, 48 have supported ADF operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and Vietnam, and humanitarian disaster relief missions in Pakistan, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific.

Australia obtained its initial batch in December 1958, becoming the first nation to operate the aircraft outside of the US Air Force.


The four-engine turboprop, medium-lift aircraft increased transport capability, and reduced reliance on piston-driven aircraft such as the C-47.

The latest J variant was first operated in 1999 by the RAAF.

Defence said on Tuesday it had approached a number of aircraft manufacturers and received information on all available medium air mobility options.

“The relative merits of each aircraft type have been assessed against Australia’s capability requirements,” it said in a statement.

“Defence seeks a low risk, certified in all roles, proven, mature and affordable replacement aircraft that meets Australia’s air mobility needs. Project principles have incorporated lessons learned from previous major Defence acquisitions as well as the in-service experience with the current C-130J fleet.

“Defence has identified that the new C-130J aircraft represents the only option that meets all of Australia’s capability requirements and assures Defence’s medium air mobility capability without introducing substantial cost, schedule and capability risk.

“As a result, new C-130J aircraft will be the only option that Defence will progress for government approval under Project AIR 7404 Phase 1 in 2023.”

The federal government’s faith in the Hercules comes after it last month highlighted the Spartan’s inability to land on battlefields as an example of mismanagement of Defence projects by the previous Liberal federal government.

The Albanese government said it found that at least 28 projects are behind schedule by a cumulative 97 years, while 18 were also over budget.

It claimed the blowout in costs reached $6.5 billion and pledged a raft of reforms to stop future complications.

Australia currently has 10 Spartans operated by No. 35 Squadron from RAAF Base Amberley, which now focuses on peacetime operations such as search and rescue and aeromedical operations.

The RAAF initially bought the aircraft as a replacement for the Caribou, to fit in between the Chinook and larger Hercules and C-17 Globemaster.

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member today!

Comments (10)

  • Matt


    The RAAF had a huge struggle for years trying to find a suitable caribou replacement. My Dad was in the RAAF and said there wasnt anything out there as good as the Caribou. Its sad that DeHavilland stopped making Caribous however piston aircraft are a thing of the past.

  • chris


    I’ll bet the Embraer KC 390 was an option that they seriously looked at…

  • Gordon Mackinlay


    The C-27 program was started by, and ordered by the then Mr Rudd, Labor Party Government. It has been a constant quite some years that the RAAF needed (first two addition C-130-30, to take the force to the minimum requirement for the Army support role, 14 aircraft). This requirement has not changed, and it is now realised that the C-17 force of eight aircraft is insufficient, and that the size of the C-130 replacement should be enhanced, and to include a number (six being the constant) of the base C-130 variant be acquired as well as the bulk of the force being C-130J-30. Whilst the C-17 can operate from dirt runways, stone damage is a continual problem. so they need to remain as a strategic transport, and leave tactical transport to the C-130. The standard fuselage is far more appropriate for certain operation requirements. Further more there is a need for a small C-130 tanker force to support the small number of CH-47 fitted for in flight refuelling.

  • Peter Hannah


    SOOOOOOOO sick to death of the whining and whinging about “the previous Liberal Federal Government by these Labor circus!

    I am sure that “the Liberal Federal Government” ONLY purchases what Defence or Defence Procurement decides to buy. WHY would any politician override a Defence decision for procurement?

    Labor can’t even keep their latest pre-poll promises – so why would anyone believe them!!

  • James O'Dowd


    It’s already started with China expanding its military force throughout the pacific China can’t have cake and eat it too it about time we build up our military without deploying it like China but to show we can defend ourselves when need be

  • Peter Lehman


    The problem doesn’t really lie with the Government no matter what flavour. It lies with those assessing the capability of the weapons system being chosen and with the reliability and integrity of support behind that choice.
    Often the operator of the system tries to be too clever, resulting in additional design modifications which add to the complexity of engineering and support effectiveness. I believe the FA 18 had approximately 1400 alterations to the standard legacy Hornet configurations all of which affected configuration control and that was at a time when the engineering and supply support infrastructure of the RAAF was at its premium. In the end it was a successful project, largely due to the then in-house expertise.
    The choice of the source supplying the system is another issue. Our experiences with the Mirage 111, the Subs, the Taipan and now the Spartan clearly show that “political” interference and top level bias only leads to disaster. Add to that the influence of opinionated non qualified, non uniformed members of project teams and finally inter service rivalry and you have a recipe for failure. There is no substitute for genuine in house experience.

  • Michael William Coote


    The US Government has overnight (2-3 Nov) cleared, through the DSCA Agency a possible sale of 24 C-130J-30 to Australia. There has been speculation of a KC-130J buy but I suspect this would require a separate DSCA notification.
    No word if they will replace the C-27J or if this is the expanded fleet projected under the 2020 Defence Update.

  • Greg


    In a statement, Defence said “Defence seeks a low-risk, certified in all roles, proven, mature and affordable replacement aircraft that meets Australia’s air mobility needs… Defence has identified that the new C-130J aircraft represents the ONLY OPTION [my capitals] that meets all of Australia’s capability requirements and assures Defence’s medium air mobility capability without introducing substantial cost, schedule and capability risk.”

    I’m not really sure the lessons have been learned…

    While it’s a welcome change that Defence appears to be acquiring a proven capability, there are two overloooked issues:

    1. They’ll be acquiring the stretched C-130J-30, an all-new variant of the C-130, not new C-130J’s. While it’s still a C-130, it’s a new aircraft with differences over the C-130J. From my experience in the aerospace industry, there is still risk, eg the Qantas transition from 747-300’s to 747-400’s encountered an extensive number of teething issues.

    2. There is actually a competitor aircraft, in use by various militaries, and a civilian version operated by various civilian organisations. The twin-jet Embraer KC-390 Millenium, itself a development of the Embraer E-190 twin-jet.

    Acquisition of the KC-390 is championed by none other than retired Air-Commodore John Oddie, former Director-General of RAAF aerospace development and former commander of Australia’s military airlift fleet.

    His analysis and submission to the review team was that the KC-390 offered “ranges, speeds, altitudes, reliability, and efficiency that cannot ever be delivered by C-130”, at 30 per cent of the cost of the C-130J, and that the C-130J was “too slow, too expensive, too lacking in agility, too limited in role and demonstrably too under-productive to form the basis of our future national air transport fleet… The choice is stark; step change to modern mobility or polish an aged capability for incremental outcomes that cannot meet Australia’s future.”

    To his analysis I would add the following:
    1. Half the powerplants means half the engine spares, reducing logistics requirements and holding costs.
    2. The KC-390 is powered by IAE V-2500’s which also power A320’s, meaning ample in-country support for engine maintenance and supply chains.
    3. Being based on the Embraer E-190, also operated in Australia, with similar avionics etc, further de-risks the spare parts acquisition and logistics support.

    So it would be interesting to know where, according to Defence, the KC-390 falls down with respect to the C-130J-30.

  • Ray


    @Greg, you might want to check your facts, the RAAF currently operates the C-130J-30, not the shorter base model C-130J. So it is a new for old replacement. No doubt there will be updated systems in the new build aircraft compared to the current earlier versions we now operate.

Comments are closed.

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.