With two US Air Force examples on the Waterkloof ramp and South African Air Force aircraft flying in the air display, the C-130 Hercules is a dominant sight at AAD. While the South African and US special forces aircraft represent the first generation of the design, the C-130J transport variant parked alongside is from the latest generation. To date the Hercules fleet has clocked up a staggering 23 million-plus flight hours.
Having decided that the only replacement for a Hercules is another Hercules, Lockheed Martin set about a thorough revamp of the basic design.
With numerous improvements such as new, more powerful engines, a state-of-the-art two-person cockpit, and a digital avionics system, the C-130J may look similar to its predecessor but is almost a new aircraft in terms of capability and performance.
Production of C-130Js continues at a rate of around two aircraft per month, and France is the latest customer. When the first French aircraft is delivered next year, the nation will become the 17th customer for the C-130J. Tunisia was the first customer for the new version in Africa (pictured).
Lockheed Martin reports that there are around 120 C-130s and L-100s (the civilian cargo version) flying in Africa in 19 countries.
Even though it was designed for a different requirement, the company claims that it could be “Made for Africa”, thanks to its legendary sturdiness, performance and rough/short-field capability.
South Africa was one of the nations that appreciated those characteristics, purchasing the first-generation C-130BZ many years ago. Despite having a cockpit upgrade, the BZs are tired, and there is a need to replace them. No firm requirement has yet been issued, but Lockheed Martin continues to promote the C-130J as the ideal replacement, and continues to provide data to the South African government to support its decisions.
That data includes “indicative” pricing. The C-130J is also being promoted for a number of other missions, including air-to-air refuelling and maritime patrol.
Lockheed Martin has outlined a number of missions that might typically be undertaken by the SAAF, citing a peacekeeping deployment over 1,500 nautical miles of a 1,000-strong force complete with equipment and vehicles. In such a scenario the company has calculated that the C-130J could accomplish the deployment in 20 flights, compared with 32 for the older generation of Hercules, and complete the task in a much shorter time and with a 48 per cent cost saving. Overall the operating costs are around 30 per cent less than the older aircraft.
Furthermore, the C-130J can transport many of the expeditionary force vehicles, as well as helicopters such as the Rooivalk following some disassembly. Lockheed Martin recognises that the C-130J is not a strategic transport, but suggests it could undertake a high percentage of the SAAF’s airlift needs, with those that it cannot undertake being more cost-effective to employ leased heavy lift capacity.
In the meantime, Lockheed Martin is currently building its first LM-100J, a civilian version of the C-130J that lacks military equipment. The aircraft is one of 10 required by ASL Aviation Group, for operations by South Africa’s Safair cargo carrier. Bravo Industries has also signed up for the LM-100J for operations in Brazil.