NZ Defence Minister Ron Mark has announced the selection of the Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules as the preferred option to replace the Royal NZ Air Force (RNZAF) fleet of C-130H airlifters.
Mark said the replacement of the earlier Hercules variant, the youngest of which will celebrate its 51st anniversary in service in December, was the highest priority of the NZ Government’s Defence Capability Plan 2019, released on June 11.
The DCP describes the current C-130H fleet as “among the most Pacific orientated capabilities of the (NZ) Defence Force.
“[They] are crucial to transporting NZ Defence Force people and equipment to operations around the region, including areas of high risk, or those which have limited accessibility for other aircraft,” the DCP states.
“The C-130H Hercules will be replaced within the next five years, ensuring that this vital capability is maintained for decades to come. The replacement of the C-130H will provide for the full regeneration of existing Royal NZ Air Force capabilities. Immediate, high-readiness responses in the Pacific, from humanitarian and disaster relief to potential conflict or security incidents, will require a flexible and versatile tactical airlift capability. For this reason, replacement of the C-130H is the highest priority for this plan.”
The NZ Government is now seeking detailed costing and availability of five C-130J-30 Hercules, to be acquired via the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process.
“The current Hercules have served us well since the 1960s, but they have reached the end of the road, and suitable and proven replacement aircraft will need to be sourced. The current fleet is increasing in cost to maintain and is taking longer to put through maintenance,” Mark said.
“After considering a range of military air transport aircraft carefully, the Hercules has been selected, as it offers the necessary range and payload capability as well as fully meeting NZDF’s requirements.”
Mark said that formal decisions on either a contract or aircraft numbers, or costs and funding, has not yet been made, but a business case is due to be considered by Cabinet next year. According to the DCP, the project cost will be more than NZ$1 billion. He said the procurement process is in alignment with a recent review of Defence procurement policies and practices.
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. 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.
The announcement of the C-130J-30 as the preferred solution for the Future Tactical Air Mobility requirement comes as a blow to Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, which had hoped to sell its new KC-390 multi-role airlifter to the RNZAF. The first KC-390 is expected to be handed over to the launch customer, the Brazilian Air Force, later this month, and Embraer had aimed to secure NZ as an early high-value export customer.