Defence has announced it will replace the RAAF’s 12 Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules with an expanded fleet of new-build C-130Js for its Project AIR 7404 Phase 1 medium air mobility replacement requirement.
The 1 November announcement was short on detail, saying only that, “Defence has 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.
“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,” it added. “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.”
This first paragraph is perhaps in reference to reported submissions to the Commonwealth from rival bidders proposing alternatives such as the Airbus A400M, Embraer C-390, and the Kawasaki C-2 transports. The Review is scheduled to report in March 2023, but it has been widely reported the AIR 7404 decision had been taken prior to the commencement of the Review process, and was already well-advanced through the US FMS approval process.
The number of new aircraft that will be acquired under AIR 7404 has not been disclosed, but it is believed 24 long-fuselage C-130J-30s have been requested to replace both the current Richmond-based C-130J-30s operated by 37SQN which entered service in 1999, and possibly the RAAF’s 10 C-27Js operated by 35SQN at Amberley which entered service in 2016. It has also been reported that a separate tranche of KC-130J tankers may also be under consideration.
The US Defense Security Acquisition Agency (DSCA) will likely publish its approval notification in the coming weeks, and a final decision is expected to be made at or near the completion of the Review in early 2023.