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C-130J: Multi-mission master

Line of Defence Magazine, Spring 2017

The C-130J Hercules boasts a 41% shorter take-off distance than its predecessor, the C-130H.The C-130J Hercules boasts a 41% shorter take-off distance than its predecessor, the C-130H.

 

In this profile of the C-130J, senior Lockheed Martin figures provide their perspectives on this latest iteration of the world’s most iconic tactical airlift platform and what it offers in the New Zealand context.

 

Previous issues of Line of Defence Magazine have carried several articles discussing what platforms might end up constituting the air domain capabilities identified in the 2016 Defence Capability Plan. Ubiquitous amongst these has been the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules.

Dominating the air domain in the Plan are the future air mobility capability and future air surveillance capability.  While the former is required to support independent operations, New Zealand’s Antarctic program, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief responses, search and rescue tasks and coalition operations, the latter must meet “the increased surveillance demand within New Zealand’s maritime domain” while also contributing to coalition operations.

This is a diverse set of requirements for a small air force. Reliability and flexibility of potential fleets are key, given that they will be expected to wear many mission hats as part of a lean, mean organisation.

As a contender to replace New Zealand’s ageing airlift force, the C-130J claims unprecedented multi-mission credentials and an unmatched operational history. Although it shares a basic airframe similar to that of the C-130H aircraft currently in RNZAF service, it appears that the similarities are largely skin deep.

By comparative numbers, the C-130J has 40% greater range, 21% higher maximum speed and 41% shorter take-off distance than its predecessor. It has a 40% increase in cargo volume and requires two less crew compared to what New Zealand is flying now.

“You might think it looks the same, but it’s been totally modernised, including full automation in the back of the airplane,” MAJGEN (ret’d) Rich Johnston (USAF), Lockheed Martin’s vice president, Business Development (Air Mobility & Maritime Missions) told Line of Defence. “The front end is state-of-the-art and as modern as any other airplane. The Head-Up Display for each pilot, for example, makes it much safer to fly, and communications between crew members are better.”

 

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Multi-mission specialist

According to AVM (ret’d) Graham Lintott, Former Chief of Air Force and Lockheed Martin New Zealand’s managing director (Strategy & Business Development), the C-130 potentially provides an all-in-one airlift and surveillance solution. “With a finite budget, do you buy a separate fleet of aircraft to perform air mobility and surveillance functions, or can you do both with one fleet? With the C-130J, one fleet can do both the C-130 role and the P-3 role.”

Rich Johnston agrees, pointing to the SC-130J Sea Hercules, a maritime patrol version of the C-130J designed for coastal surveillance and anti-submarine warfare. “With the Sea Herc you’re looking at a P-3 type aircraft at the higher end,” he said, “and as its bread-and-butter an aircraft capable of coast guard type missions, surveillance of fisheries and search and rescue.”

Mike Kelley, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics’ international senior director (South East Asia/Oceana Business Development), comments that the Sea Herc does not compromise the cargo/passenger capacity of the C-130J. “This means that for cyclone relief tasks in the Pacific, for example, you can have a cargo load full of relief supplies and equipment and land on a coral strip.”

“The beauty of the SC-130J concept is that you can either have them purpose built and permanently configured for the role or you can have different modules,” says Graham, “so when you need to do an ASW [anti-submarine warfare] mission, for example, you can roll the ASW module on and off the back of the aircraft. When you don’t need it, you can remove it and it reverts to cargo or whatever the aircraft has been configured for.

Roll-on/roll-off systems allow one airframe to be utilised to cover a broader mission set, thus increasing fleet utilisation and reducing overall costs. The C-130J provides roll-on/roll-off capabilities for air mobility, anti-subsurface warfare, armed response and ISR/MSA.

 

Reliability when it counts

The tactical airlifter is powered by four Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 turboprops, with each engine developing 4,637 shp. “Anywhere you land on a semi- or unprepared airfield you need 100%, and the turboprop engine has instant power,” says Rich. “If you are in a situation where you need a lot of power in a hurry, it’s like being in an elevator.”

As such, the C-130J retains the C-130 tactical airlift specialisation for short and austere runways and airfields in mountainous terrain.

Quizzed about the performance of the turboprop relative to jet engines, he comments that the turbo prop engine is extremely efficient at low altitudes, providing a particularly stable platform that burns less fuel, with a much longer loiter time.

“These aircraft will potentially need to operate from Antarctica to the equator and to warzones in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he says. “Having dealt with C-130Hs over the years, all I can say is that the C-130J is reliable in all those missions and in the mission operating environments it has faced in the 18 years it’s been in service.”

“At the end of the day, am I flying a plane that can simply ferry lots of cargo long distances, or can I do the wide range of various missions reliably and safely?”

 

Low risk option

But it’s not just in the air where a future airlift capability will need to prove its worth, with whole-of-life costs a large – and now more heavily scrutinised – component of major capability project consideration.

The obvious advantage of the RNZAF moving from its existing C-130H fleet to the C-130J is that the facilities required to maintain the aircraft will not require changing. In terms of maintenance, 60% of parts remain the same, and training will likely be relatively straight forward in comparison to an entirely distinct platform.

“Importantly, the RNZAF’s long history in C130 tactics, techniques and procedures is not lost,” comments Rich. “C-130H crew members will appreciate the backbone and history of Lockheed Martin and the C-130.”

But what of the future for an aircraft that has essentially been in production since the late 1950s? “People worry about how long the aircraft will be in production and for how long it will be serviced,” acknowledges Graham, “but we have a backlog of around 70 orders, so the production line will go to at least 2030 and beyond.”

“Lockheed Martin has an excellent track record of supporting its products. The fact that C-130s and P-3s have been in service and serviced by Lockheed Martin for over 50 years is a compelling indicator.”

A total of 68 countries operate C-130s, and currently the C-130J boasts 17 government and one commercial operator.

 

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