Casting an impressive shadow on the Waterkloof apron is the Lockheed Martin C-130J from the US Air Force. The aircraft’s maker is pitching the latest version of the 60-year-old aircraft as the ideal answer to South Africa’s needs for a tactical airlifter and maritime patrol aircraft.
With more than a million flight hours under its belt, the new-generation C-130J serves in 16 subvariants with 19 operators, and 346 have been sold to date. The first aircraft for an African air force (Tunisia) was recently delivered, with a second to follow. Lockheed Martin views the continent as a key opportunity for further sales, for air arms looking to acquire new capability or to recapitalise their ageing first-generation Hercules fleets. Some 120 of these older ‘Hercs’ are flying in the continent.
Lockheed Martin recently demonstrated the C-130J in Angola and has also shown the aircraft to the Algerian, Ethiopian, Moroccan and Nigerian air forces.
South Africa is looking to replace its ageing C-130BZ fleet in the next decade, and Lockheed Martin is pitching the C-130J-30 as an ideal replacement. Compared with the C-130BZ, the stretched C-130J-30 offers about 40 per cent more load capacity, as well as significantly improved performance. In the hot-and-high conditions that prevail in many parts of Africa those improvements are compelling: with a 15,000kg load the C-130J-30 flies 66 per cent further than the C-130BZ, and with a 10,000kg load the range capability is 2,278 nautical miles – an improvement of 41 per cent.
A ready-made support facility is already in place, because Denel is Africa’s only authorised C-130 service centre.
Lockheed Martin is also proposing the aircraft as a tanker, for aerial refuelling of aircraft and helicopters and as a forward refuelling point on the ground. Company figures claim that the 440-nautical mile unrefuelled radius of South Africa’s Gripen fighters could be increased to 940nm with one refuelling from the Hercules, or 1,745nm with two. The latter figure would allow the Gripens to reach to the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and southern parts of the Central African Republic and Ethiopia.
For the maritime role, Lockheed Martin has schemed the SC-130J Sea Hercules, which has the range to reach Antarctica and back from Ysterplaat air base in Cape Town. This version employs many of the systems developed for the P-3 Orion, including mission suite, search radar and electrooptical/ infrared sensor. Different levels of SC-130J mission-fit are proposed, beginning with a basic maritime surveillance aircraft, through an anti-surface warfare version with four anti-ship missiles carried under the wings, to a full anti-submarine version with an internal bay for up to six torpedoes, magnetic anomaly detector and rotary sonobuoy launcher.
While Lockheed Martin is following South African defence requirements closely, the first aircraft to operate in the country are likely to be of the civilian LM-100J version. Launched earlier this year, the LM-100J is the second-generation follow-on to the proven L-100 freighter, which has seen much service in Africa.
In July, ASL Aviation became the launch customer for the LM-100J, with a letter of intent to buy the aircraft for service with well-known South African L-100 operator Safair. The exact details of the contract are still being finalised, including the number of aircraft, but the letter of intent covers 10.