C-390M Chosen for Netherlands Airlifter Replacement

 - June 17, 2022, 5:09 AM
A KC-390 of the Brazilian air force was demonstrated to the Czech Republic in early June. (Photo: Czech Republic Ministry of Defence)

The Netherlands defense ministry has selected the Embraer C-390M Millennium as its desired successor for its current fleet of four Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules transport aircraft. The choice was communicated to the House of Representatives by defense secretary Christophe van der Maat in a June 16 letter.

The intention is to have the first C-390M delivered in 2026. However, it has not been revealed if the aircraft would be acquired as KC-390s with optional inflight refueling capability.

The need to replace the C-130Hs of 336 Squadron of the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu, royal air force) has become increasingly urgent in recent years as the fleet’s availability rates have fallen. Originally the C-130Hs were due to fly until 2031, but in 2020 the decision was taken to replace them earlier. The acquisition of new airlifters formed one of the main elements of the recently published defense white paper, which also specified an increase in numbers from four to five.

For some time it had been assumed by many that the C-130J Super Hercules would be the replacement, but following evaluation the defense ministry concluded that the Brazilian-made C-390M was a better option. Aspects that were cited included better availability, higher scores on a number of unspecified technical and operational requirements, and reduced maintenance requirements. Another aspect in the C-390M’s favor was its ability to meet the minimum required 2,400 flight hours per year with four aircraft, whereas the C-130J was assessed at requiring five.

However, the defense ministry has a desire to increase transport flying hours in light of recent developments. Van der Maat referred in his letter to the evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021, and to the changed security situation along NATO’s eastern border following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“They have underlined the importance of guaranteed availability of transport capacity for the armed forces,” he wrote. “With an expansion from 2,400 to 4,000 flying hours, units can be supported better and more often. The Netherlands also contributes to filling a European deficit. Additional transport capacity also benefits the speed to respond to calamities.”

It is envisaged that the C-390Ms would participate in the European Air Transport Command, which brings together air transport fleets from seven European air arms, which pool and share capacity.

For Embraer the Netherlands announcement is good news in the wake of the Brazilian government’s decision in February to cut its KC-390 buy from 28 to 22. Portugal has ordered five, the first of which is due for delivery in 2023, while Hungary has signed for two for delivery in 2024. The Czech Republic—whose Aero Vodochody builds the C-390’s rear fuselage—has signaled interest in the type but has yet to make any decision. A C-390M was demonstrated to Czech defense officials at Pardubice earlier this month.