The German air force is buying six C-130J Super Hercules that will become part of a joint Franco-German squadron at Evreux airbase, France. Both air forces have now said that the Airbus A400M airlifter that was previously supposed to replace all of their C160 Transalls cannot perform all of the required missions. France received the first of four Super Hercules last December, two years after agreeing to a deal with Lockheed Martin worth $650 million.
According to the formal notification on May 4 by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the sale to Germany will be worth $1.4 billion. It comprises three long-fuselage C-130J-30s and three KC-130J refuelers. France bought two each of these types and may buy two more. Germany’s aircraft will be equipped with electronic warning and warfare systems, L3 Wescam MX-20 EO/IR imaging sensors, secure communications, precision navigation and cryptographic equipment, and night-vision devices for the aircrew. Europe’s two largest countries formally agreed to create the joint squadron last October, one year after they began planning for it. They will each contribute €110 million ($130 million) for infrastructure improvements at the French airbase. The squadron is scheduled to achieve initial operational capability in 2021, and be fully operational in 2024.
"The C-130J will fill a gap which will emerge with the retirement of the aging Transall," said German air force commander Karl Muellner when he attended a commissioning ceremony for the first French C-130J-30 last January. A total of 29 Transalls remain in German service, but they are all slated for retirement by 2021. Last year, the German air force website explained that the C-130Js “will be used where the A400M is too large. This could be, for example, evacuation missions in Africa, where small and unpaved airfields make the use of the A400M impossible.”
Airbus has contested this assertion, but a long list of admitted temporary deficiencies has caused a renegotiation of the pan-European A400M contract that is not yet fully concluded, although a slowdown in deliveries to the six air forces has been agreed. The original impetus for the French C-130J order was the failure of Airbus to provide air-to-air refueling of helicopters from the A400M. But, like the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) before them, the French and German air forces have evidently concluded that the A400M is not agile enough to perform special-forces missions. The RAF decided to retain its C-130Js—the first ones ever delivered back in the late 1990s—despite agreeing to buy 25 A400Ms (since reduced to 22).
Germany has received 17 of the 60 A400Ms that it originally envisioned (since reduced to 53). But a recent public report by the German defense ministry revealed that of the 15 A400Ms received by the end of 2017, only three were “operational” and only eight were “available.” In another report leaked to the Reuters news agency last March, the ministry said that “it is not clear whether, when and how many mature deployable A400Ms will be available with the contractually required suite of tactical capabilities.”