Life after the C-130 – Whither A400M?

With the recent retirement of the RAAF C-130H Hercules after 34 years service, the mantle of Air Lift Group’s oldest fleet now passes to the 12 C-130J-30 Hercules operated by No 37 Squadron at RAAF Base Richmond.

Although C-130J-30 is still a relatively young fleet, having been in RAAF service for less than 15 years, it needs ongoing hardware and software upgrades to keep it relevant (see article in this issue), and it will soon be time to start thinking of ‘life’ beyond Hercules.

The Hercules was designed just after the Second World War and its then voluminous cargo bay was designed around the likely loads of the day, the size of Army vehicles then in regular use and the like. Today, many of these vehicles and loads are reportedly either too large for the Hercules, or perhaps too inefficient to carry in smaller numbers.

If this holds true then what will likely become the standard airlifter of the future?  Larger aircraft such as the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III can carry the outsize loads but at what cost? Smaller aircraft such as the C-Alenia C-27J Spartan and Airbus Military C-295 can carry many of the routine Hercules loads more efficiently, but what about the times when larger loads are required to be delivered to tactical airfields?

Airbus Military believes it has the answer in its A400M tactical airlifter, now on the brink of entering service with the French Air Force after a long and difficult gestation. Larger than the Hercules but smaller than the C-17A, the European manufacturer hopes that many air arms will turn to the A400M when it’s time to replace their existing C-130 fleets.

As present, Air Lift Group has a fleet of 36 aircraft, spread across six flying squadrons and four bases. This comprises six C-17As, five Airbus Military KC-30As, twelve C-130J-30s, seven Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350s and a mixed Special Purpose (VIP) fleet of five aircraft. Ten C-27Js will be added to the fleet from 2015 as the RAAF’s new Battlefield Airlifter.

According to Air Lift Group, back in 2006 the organisation had 47 aircraft and a passenger capacity of 3775 people or 656 tonnes of cargo. In 2016, when all ten C-27Js on order are in Australia, Air Lift Group will have the capability to uplift 4321 passengers or 950 tonnes of cargo.

The average airframe age is set to drop from an average 24 years down to just nine, with the C-130J-30 representing the oldest airlifter and the C-27J the newest at that point in time.

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