Another market falls to the Hercules. Who else is left?
Germany today confirmed its purchase of 4-6 C-130J Hercules that it will use to operate into short airstrips and fulfill other missions deemed unsuitable for the A400M. It’s a bit of a blow for Airbus Defence & Space, which had seen its order of A400Ms for Germany reduced in past (don’t feel too bad – as I kind of covered before, the A400M still exists in a league of its own, and has significant scope for development).
Germany’s C-130J fleet will be operated jointly with an existing four-aircraft order for France, easing the logistics and training footprint for the type. Berlin’s purchase represents a fairly big tectonic adjustment in the field of military airlift. For 60 years, Germany has been the one market that Lockheed Martin hasn’t been able to crack for the C-130.
So, who does that leave Lockheed Martin left to sell C-130s to for the first time? As the Wiki page for C-130 Operators suggests, there’s precious few countries that haven’t flown the Hercules before – either in its military guise, or even as a civil contracted freighter.
China operated a handful of civilian L-100 Hercules freighters. After the fall of Saigon, it’s likely even the Soviet Union poured over a couple of South Vietnamese C-130As and may have taken one back to Russia (though it’s yet to appear on Google Maps if they did make off with one).
Who are some of the contenders?
The idea of Kim Jong-Un shaking hands with Secretary of State John Kerry over the successful order of C-130s for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is pretty unlikely. Indeed, the idea of any Western aircraft operating north of the 53rd parallel is hard to imagine outside of a shooting war.
Except, North Korea already does. A New Zealand-made P-750 STOL transport was recently spotted during North Korea’s first Air Show. In the 1980s, North Korea managed to receive at least 60 MD500 helicopters through a broker before the United States stopped the order.
Likelihood: 0.01/10 (and that’s being optimistic). Pyongyang would need a particularly nefarious reason to acquire a Herc for its Air Force, otherwise it would likely seek out a Chinese Y-8 (itself a descendant of the Antonov An-12). The best case scenario is a mirror of how it came to have a P-750 from New Zealand – a Chinese intermediate company purchased the aircraft, and leased/sold it to North Korea. Until then, Li’l Kim will have to content himself with this god awful North Korean CGI Hercules in Olympus Has Fallen.
I wont try to recap the past 15 years of Ukraine’s political and security history, and it’s difficult to imagine where it will be in the future. Suffice to say, it’s possible the country’s worst years might still be ahead of it.
Imagining a best case scenario – a Ukraine that is able to assert itself more independently within Eastern Europe, stand on its own economically, and begin replacing its dated Soviet-era military – then it’s conceivable that it will seek closer ties with the West, and re-equip itself with new platforms. Like, say, the Hercules.
The only problem is that the prospect of Ukraine flying Hercules is like driving a BMW in Detroit. It’s just not right.
For the last 75 years, Ukraine has been home to Antonov, the aerospace manufacturer that produced the bulk of the Soviet Union/Russia’s large cargo aircraft (with the exception of the Ilyushin Il-76). They even produced the An-12, the Eastern Bloc’s equivalent to the C-130 Hercules.
Today, Antonov as a company is in dire straits, largely owing to its dependence on systems and parts supplied by Russia (not to mention a lack of aircraft orders). Antonov recently sold the design of the An-225 – the world’s largest aircraft – to China , but at best there will be a joint production of new airframes between the two countries. The An-70, produced as an An-12 replacement (and analogous to the A400M in some respects), is another contender for Ukraine’s future airlift. But it would need a miracle to become economically viable.
So, whilst the prospect of Ukraine purchasing C-130s isn’t unlikely, it’s liable to bring tears to the eyes of a few aerospace engineers in Kiev…
Likelihood: 6/10. Afghanistan flies C-130s. Iraq flies C-130s. Poland flies C-130s. No matter how bad things are in Ukraine, it’s not inconceivable that in 10 to 20 years time, it could find itself equipped with the Hercules. Given Ukraine’s current economic state and prospects, it pains me to say that Antonov’s best work lies in its past (pending any more lifelines from, say, China). Assuming all goes well for Ukraine’s future, in a couple of years they’ll need to replace An-12s and Il-76s with an existing platform produced by the West. There’ll be contenders for these replacements, but should a future White House Administration extend a lifeline to Kiev, it might be delivered via ex-USAF C-130Hs…
There’s a surprising number of Western European countries that don’t operate the Hercules already. Switzerland, for one. Finland, too. Smaller nations like Luxembourg, Malta and Leichtenstein. Even smaller are your Monacos, Vaticans, and San Marinos.
Also, there’s Ireland.
Founded in 1924, there’s nothing in the Irish Air Corps’ 92-year history to suggest a requirement for a dedicated medium tactical airlifter. The function of the Irish Air Corps and its 750-strong workforce is to provide airborne support to the wider Army, which includes some helicopter airlift and other maritime surveillance. Some of their work includes aero-medical evacuation and airlift of its citizens.
The largest aircraft it has operated are a pair of Airbus CN235s used for maritime patrol, that also have capacity for light transport missions.
Beyond this, larger military transport tasks for Ireland have been undertaken by friendly air forces or contracted airlift, such as when Irish peacekeeping forces or relief aid have been deployed abroad.
Ireland sits within the European Union, meaning it has an obligation to conduct fishery patrols of 340,000 square kilometres of ocean on the EU’s behalf. But Ireland is not a member of NATO, meaning it does not provide personnel and equipment to NATO missions, nor does it receive running military assistance (such as the Baltic Air Policing flight). Thus, the strategic requirements for Ireland to possess an aircraft like the Hercules are limited.
Likelihood: 4/10. The most recent Defence White Paper for Ireland stated the two CN235s are due for retirement in 2019, and Dublin is reportedly seeking a replacement that is larger and more capable – both in the maritime surveillance and transport role. A betting man would say the most likely contender is the Airbus C295 Persuader, which provides some marginal increase in range and payload, but with only a fractional increase in purchase/operating cost. But if Ireland wants to expand its pool of replacment options, don’t be surprised if Lockheed Martin dresses a model of the SC-130J ‘Sea Hercules’ in an attractive blue colour scheme at the next Paris Air Show…