Australia has selected the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules for its Project Air 7404 Phase 1 requirement, the country’s Department of Defence announced on November 1. The purchase will now progress towards gaining government approval next year.
Air 7404 Phase 1 is part of an effort to recapitalize the tactical airlift fleet, which currently relies on the 12 stretched C-130J-30s that entered service in 1999 and which fly with No. 37 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force at RAAF Richmond in New South Wales. The smaller Leonardo C-27J Spartan is operated by No. 35 Squadron at RAAF Amberley, Queensland.
The two decades of experience with the C-130J—which has included numerous overseas operations—was a key factor in the decision, the announcement stating 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.”
No numbers were specified, or which version would be acquired, but the announcement notes that the current fleet is being “replaced and expanded”, and it is anticipated that 24 will be ordered. The U.S. State Department subsequently approved a potential sale to Australia of that number. There has also been interest reported in buying some KC-130J tankers, which could be procured in a separate deal.
A few days earlier, the Department of Defence announced that the C-27J fleet would receive updated communications under what is termed the Commonwealth Avionics Upgrade. The AUD70 million ($45m) contract with Leonardo will replace and upgrade the current radio suite with improved cryptography, enhancing interoperability with partner nations and operational security.
Although Leonardo is the prime contractor, the work will be performed by personnel from No. 35 Squadron and maintenance support partner Northrop Grumman. The work is due to begin at Amberley in September next year, and the 10-strong fleet is scheduled to have completed the upgrade program by 2026.