The Royal New Zealand Air Force is set to operate the C-130J Super Hercules after the first announcement of 2019 Defence Capability Plan expenditure.
The announcement, which came as part of a NZ$20 billion shopping list from Defence Minister Ron Mark, identified the replacement of the air force’s existing C-130H Hercules aircraft as the current top priority for defence investment.
The Air Force’s five existing C-130H aircraft were originally procured in two batches in the 1960s and despite having undergone several refurbishments to keep them going are now showing their age.
Outlining the need for replacement the defence minister said:
“The current fleet is increasing in cost to maintain, and is taking longer to put through maintenance. Tactical air transport capability is one of the highest value assets available to New Zealand, offering huge utility to the community and nation, enabling movement of personnel and cargo around the country, the South Pacific, down to Antarctica and all around the globe.”
Though final numbers are not yet confirmed, the Defence Ministry has requested pricing options for five of the C-130J-30 extended fuselage models allowing for a like-for-like replacement in terms of numbers. The longer aircraft offering improved cargo capacity compared to its predecessors.
The C-130J-30 beat out competition from the Airbus A400M and the Embraer KC-390, with one proposal offering to wet-lease KC-390s on a corporate contract. It is also understood that Kawasaki offered the Japanese C-2 transport and that the smaller C-27J Spartan, also operated by Australia, was considered.
Owing to the urgent need for the replacement aircraft Cabinet made the decision to bypass the formal tendering process. The Super Hercules being selected based on its proven reliability and international reputation. Interoperability with other Commonwealth air forces and the American military is also likely to have been a major factor.
As a small air force the RNZAF relies heavily on overseas exchanges for its pilots and aircrew to build experience, with a common platform offering increases opportunities for cooperation.
Entry to service for the new aircraft is anticipated to be 2023.
The Air Force’s mixed use freight-passenger 757-200 aircraft are also due for replacement under the Defence Capability plan which will also see the Navy’s transport capability boosted by an additional “enhanced sealift ship” and a replacement for current flagship HMNZS Canterbury. Other programmes announced last year and reaffirmed in the 2019 plan will also see the Air Force receive four new P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft as well as long-range UAVs for patrolling its massive EEZ.