THE MIGHTY HERCULES
Combat Aircraft's tribute to the C-130
When it comes to tactical airlift and special missions, the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules remains the benchmark. It has carved a unique niche for itself and its success looks set to continue well into the future.
Lockheed Martin delivered the 2,500th C-130 Hercules, from its production line at Marietta, Georgia, in December 2015. The landmark Hercules was an HC-130J Combat King II for the US Air Force’s 71st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
George Shultz, vice president and general manager, C-130 programs, commented at the time: ‘The Hercules is a global asset and versatile workhorse that is truly without equal.’
The USAF accepted the very first Hercules back on December 9, 1956 and today it is unsurprisingly the largest operator of both ‘legacy’ C-130s and the follow-on C-130J Super Hercules.
Production of the original C-130 ramped up fast. Indeed, the highest number of C-130s produced was in 1957 when Lockheed built 140 aircraft. Between 1962 and 1964 the manufacturer delivered a whopping 112, 131, and 139 aircraft respectively. Today, 68 nations operate the Hercules and 19 different operators in 16 nations fly the current C-130J in a number of variants.
The C-130J also followed on from the ‘legacy’ Herc’ in its diversity of applications, and the variants currently in production include the C-130J/C-130J-30 tactical and strategic transporter; KC-130J aerial refueler; HC-130J search and rescue aircraft; MC-130J special operations aircraft and the LM-100J commercial freighter. In fact, the C-130J is available in 17 different configurations.
Having recapitalized much of the USAF’s transport fleet of aging ‘legacy’ Hercules, Lockheed Martin saw dwindling appetite for the C-130J until Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) turned to the J-model to overhaul its MC and HC-130 fleets.
Indeed, at the end of 2015 the US Department of Defense signed a new Multi-Year II contract for 78 C-130Js. The contract, worth $5.3 billion, is for 30 MC-130Js, 13 HC-130Js and 29 C-130J-30s for the USAF, six KC-130Js for the Marine Corps and options on five US Coast Guard HC-130Js until 2020. Lockheed Martin previously provided 60 C-130Js to the DoD through an initial multi-year contract that ran from 2003 to 2008.
AFSOC now plans to replace 37 ‘legacy’ AC-130H/U/W gunships with 37 AC-130J Ghostriders. The AC-130Js will have an advanced suite of sensors and precision weapons, which will provide a wider array of combat firepower to the battlefield. Five new MC-130Js have been delivered to the AC-130J conversion line so far. The first AC-130J is projected to achieve initial operating capability (IOC) in the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year 2017.
For much more on the C-130 Hercules, see our free supplement in the forthcoming April edition of Combat Aircraft, on sale from this Thursday.
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