NZ Defence Minister Ron Mark has confirmed five Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft will be purchased to replace the existing fleet of C-130Hs.
The proposed acquisition of the C-130J-30 is in response to the NZDF’s Future Tactical Air Mobility program, which calls for an Entry into Service (EIS) in 2023. The announcement came as a blow to Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, which had hoped to sell its new KC-390 multi-role airlifter to the RNZAF.
“Last year, Cabinet selected these aircraft as the preferred option to replace the current Hercules fleet. Procurement of the Super Hercules has been my highest capability priority as Minister of Defence,” Minister Mark said. “Along with the new fleet, the NZ$1.521 billion project will deliver a full mission flight simulator and other supporting infrastructure.
“This fleet will ensure the Defence Force can continue to support NZ’s community resilience, our national security, our contribution to our Pacific neighbours and the wider global community.
“The new aircraft will carry a greater payload, is faster and can travel further than the current Hercules aircraft. Each aircraft will also be fitted with additional specialist capabilities, including a wide bandwidth, high speed satellite communications system and an electro-optical/infra-red camera.
“This equipment will make our new Super Hercules among the most capable in the world. The satellite communications system will allow imagery, video and data to be streamed in real time, and the camera allows for aerial surveillance, including at the same time as the aircraft is undertaking transport tasks, particularly useful on humanitarian and disaster relief operations and search and rescue missions,” Minister Mark said.
The aircraft and simulator are being acquired through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process as part of a package that includes aircrew and maintainer training.
“As with our decision to acquire the P-8A Poseidon fleet through the FMS process, this has reduced costs and allows collaboration with other nations on developments and system upgrades that will be necessary over the life of the aircraft,” Minister Mark said. “The first of the new Hercules will be delivered in 2024, with the full fleet operating from 2025, allowing for a phased retirement of the current fleet.”
The NZ government has also approved NZ$21 million to upgrade systems in the Air Force NH90 helicopters to comply with regulatory and operational requirements.
“This investment, building on the first tranche announced last year, will ensure that the NZDF’s aircraft are fitted with updated communication, navigation, air traffic management and identification systems,” Minister Mark said. “The upgrade of the NH90 will be undertaken in cooperation with a number of other nations who operate these helicopters including Australia, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, and Norway.”
“Without upgrading these systems the NZDF aircraft may be restricted in operations in both controlled civil and military airspace. Funding for this project will be provided for from NZDF baselines,” Minister Mark said.
A forthcoming Future Strategic Air Mobility program will seek to replace the RNZAF’s two Boeing 757-200 combi aircraft. The DCP calls for engagement with industry for the strategic airlift capability to begin in 2021, with a Request for Tender (RFT) in 2024 and entry into service in 2028. Project cost is estimated to be between NZ$300 and NZ$600 million.