The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) may retain in service a number of its Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules transport aircraft for special forces use, a senior service official disclosed on 16 September.
Speaking at the IQPC Military Airlift 2014 conference in London, Group Captain Simon Edwards, Officer Commanding RAF Brize Norton, said that there may be a continued need for the C-130J beyond its current planned out of service date (OSD) of 2022.
“We will start drawing down the C-130 fleet in the next couple of years, and will retire them in 2022. However, if we keep [a number of] them, and we may, it will probably be for special forces use,” he said.
The RAF currently operates 24 C-130J aircraft out of RAF Brize Norton. With the first of 22 Airbus Defence and Space (DS) A400M Atlas transport aircraft set to arrive at the base in the coming weeks, the C-130J is due to be withdrawn from service in favour of a joint A400M and Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlift force.
Although Gp Capt Edwards’ comments open the door to a stay of execution for the C-130J in RAF service, he noted that this is in large part dependent on the state of the airframes after more than a decade of intense operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond.
“It does depend what life is left in [the C-130J] what we do with them after their planned retirement date, [as] we can’t afford to invest in aircraft we have no current plans to retain. Having said that, we have to be aware of what can happen in the next eight years [until the OSD], and [support the aircraft for that] accordingly.”
With the possible exception of special forces work, Gp Capt Edwards feels that there is no real gap in the tactical capabilities between the C-130J and A400M, nor in the strategic capabilites between the A400M and C-17, and that the introduction into service of the Atlas will significantly enhance the RAF’s air mobility capacity.