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Hercules still has the power

Posted 13 February 2020 · 1 Comment

Deserts, war and the vastness of many countries in the Middle East and north Africa, ensure there will always be a need for military tactical airlifters. Alan Warnes has been looking round the MENA region.

There are around 240 tactical airlifters currently operating in the Middle East and north Africa with the most dominant being the C-130 Hercules.
Around 170 different examples of the aircraft are operating with every nation now, after Bahrain became the most recent user in November 2018.
The tactical workhorse has proved hugely popular flying around many of the big countries like Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Landing in hot-and-high conditions, as well as austere airfields, has only added to the Hercules’ popularity, when needing a transport aircraft to visit military outposts and civilian communities when needed.
The Hercules was first seen in the Middle East in 1962, when the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF), under the Shah of Iran, took the first C-130B. More than 250 have been delivered to the region since then.
Today, the bulk of them are still operating, although several have gone through cockpit upgrades with Saudi’s Alsalam Aerospace Industries or the UAE’s Advanced Military Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Center (AMMROC).
Spare parts are easily accessible, which is a necessity when an aircraft has an average age of 40. But Lockheed Martin’s rule over the tactical transport market has slipped a bit in recent years because most countries cannot afford to stump up the alleged $150 million for a new C-130J.
The Hercules might be the best-selling tactical airlifter in the world but, in Africa, the acquisition cost is usually king. Tunisia is the only north African state to opt for new-generation Hercules; the remainder have been happy to keep their old C-130Bs, C-130Es, C-130Hs and L100s airworthy, even if Lockheed Martin does not issue service bulletins for the likes of the C-130B/Es, meaning air forces have to check them regularly themselves and organise the repairs.
Fatigue with centre wing boxes, where the wings join the fuselage, are the main issues on the older aircraft and sourcing these can be an issue.
The young pretenders to Lockheed Martin’s dominance in the market are the Leonardo C-27J and Airbus C295W.
Powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 turboshaft engines, the C-27J can fly up to 602km/h with a maximum cruise speed of 583 km/h and a maximum payload of more than 13,000kg, although standard is 8,000kgs.
Leonardo successfully completed first flight-tests of the C-27J battlefield airlifter-configuration aircraft, with new winglets. The aircraft benefits from better hot-and-high runway performance, increased payload, range and endurance, which should make it more attractive to the MENA air forces. So far, there is only one undisclosed customer, but is not believed to be from the MENA region.
As well as being a strategic and tactical airlifter, the Italian option can serve as a multi-mission aircraft in electronic surveillance, fire-fighting and search-and-rescue operations.
While there have been sales to African states, Morocco is the only air force in the north to operate the C-27J – four of them – alongside a mixed fleet of old C-130 Hercules
and seven CN235Ms.
The C295M, just like the C-27J, is marketed as a tactical airlifter serving the light and medium-lift role. Its two Pratt& Whitney Canada PW127G turboprop engines ensure the aircraft reaches a respectable 576km/h and a cruising speed of 480km/h.
The new C295W version is equipped with winglets and uprated engines to deliver an improved performance.
Being 41ft 8ins long, it has the longest unobstructed cabin in its class – albeit not as high as the C-27J – and a maximum payload of 9,700kg.
The Middle East’s GCC nations have very strong operational links with the US and, not surprisingly, they usually buy American; hence the popularity of the C-130 Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster III in the region.
Bahrain took delivery in November 2018 of a former UK Royal Air Force C-130J, which had been overhauled by Marshalls of Cambridge. A second one is due for delivery soon. And, while six Royal Bahraini Air Force aircrew went to Madrid to train, there are some reports that ex-Pakistan Air Force aircrews will also join the fleet.
Iraq, which had flown mainly Russian transport aircraft until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, now uses just six C-130Js, delivered in December 2012 and May 2013. Earlier in 2011 and 2012, six Antonov An-32s, ideal for the hot-and-high conditions, had been purchased.
Jordan operates four C-130Hs, delivered between 1978 and 1982. An ex-US Air Force example, delivered in February 1997, was lost in an accident in July 2000.
The two Ilyushin Il-76MFs, acquired in June 2011 and painted in Jordan International Air Cargo titles, were sold to the Egyptian Air Force in July 2019.
Iran still operates a large fleet of around 30 C-130E/Hs, despite military embargoes, because Iran Aircraft Industries (SAHA), working alongside the military, has been able to keep them in the air
Kuwait’s tactical transport capabilities received a significant boost in 2014, when it took delivery of three KC-130Js and two Boeing C-17As. They are believed to be supporting the needs of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in Yemen.
Kuwait had earlier operated two L-100-20 and four L-100-30s, but they have all been retired.
Oman’s tactical transport needs are met by four Airbus C295Ms that entered service in October 2013. They were joined in 2013 by a C-130J-30, and two C-130Js in 2014. There is a second order for two aircraft, made in 2014, that have yet to be delivered.
Qatar operates eight C-17A Globemasters, and was the first country to receive the giant airlifter in the Middle East, working alongside four C-130Js, delivered in 2011.
Saudi Arabia is, this year, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first C-130 Hercules delivery in December 1969.
Since then, the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has gone on to receive a further 10 C-130Es, 35 C-130Hs, three C-130H-30s, eight KC-130Hs, six L100-30s, and two VC-130Hs.
Of those, seven have been lost in accidents and six C-130Es were transferred to the Turkish Air Force.
The legacy Hercules were joined by two KC-130Js in March 2016. They are part of a $6.7 billion US foreign military sales (FMS) deal, which covers five KC-130Js and 20 C-130Js. However, no time frame for the order or delivery of the outstanding aircraft is known. A company spokesman said: “It is an FMS agreement, so we are supporting the US Government in Saudi with the pacing of the deliveries.”
Saudi also operates six A330 MRTTs (multirole tanker transports) that have been in service since 2013.
Lockheed Martin has seen a shift from airlift and humanitarian-type Hercules sorties to special operations, which led Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to acquire KC-130Js in the region.
A Lockheed Martin spokesman at the 2017 Dubai Airshow said: “Interoperability is a key issue, particularly between foreign operators flying together overseas in places like Yemen and against Islamic State [over Iraq and Syria].
“On air-to-air refuelling you can’t take any receiver and plug into a tanker; it has to be qualified. And, because there are so many nations operating the C-130, Lockheed Martin has qualified several platforms to refuel from it.”
The UAE Air Force and Air Defence (UAEAF&AD) also had a requirement for 12 C-130Js, but these discussions seems to have stalled.
The UAE is the biggest operator of the civilian-certified L-100 Hercules, three currently serve the military and three are with the Dubai Air Wing.
After years of marketing the C-27J in the UAE, Leonardo lost out to the C295 in November 2017, when the UAEAF&AD announced at the Dubai Airshow that it was to buy five. They were ordered as Airbus was showing off its weaponised C295 version in the static display.
Many of the Hercules are supported by local companies in the Middle East.
Saudi’s Alsalam, for example, partners with Boeing and is soon to be part of the Saudi Arabian military industries carrying out maintenance on the RSAF examples.
The Riyadh-based company has also upgraded three VIP Hercules since 2008 – one civilian L-100 and two RSAF C-130s – with new cockpits and elegant new interiors, that include bedrooms and suites, as well as state-of-the-art entertainment and communications systems.
Egyptian C-130s are believed to be overhauled by the air force at Cairo-West, although some work in the past has been carried out at Helwan.
In the UAE, C-130 work is carried out by AMMROC at Abu Dhabi, but will shortly be transferred to the new complex at Al Ain, currently under construction. The company has modernised cockpits of six C-130H/L100-30s to date.
AMMROC is a joint venture between the Emirates Defense Industries Company (EDIC) and Lockheed Martin, and is being primed to overhaul all Hercules, including the C-130Js.
Singapore Technologies Aerospace, Hellenic Aerospace Industries, and Marshalls of Cambridge are all known Middle-East C-130 maintenance companies.
Iraq is currently looking to the latter to overhaul its six C-130Js, which have put in a good turn, supporting operations against Islamic State since being delivered in 2012/13. Several have been hit by mortar fire while supporting military and civilian operations.
Algeria’s 14 C-130 Hercules were delivered in the early 1980s to shuttle cargo and personnel all over the vast state. Unfortunately, the fleet has not fared well and two have been lost in recent years.
On February 11, 2014, a C-130H-30 – serial 7T-WHM – crashed, reportedly due to poor weather conditions, claiming the lives of 77 people on board, including the four flight crew. Then, a C-130H – 7T-WHT – skidded off the runway at Biskra Airport, 450kms south of Algiers, on June 3, 2018, resulting in the seven crew being injured.
That came two months after Algeria’s worst ever aviation crash on April 11 2018, when an Il-76 – 7T-WIV – crashed on take-off from its Boufarik base killing 257 people. Three days of national mourning followed.
The Algerian Air Force flies 17 of the lumbering Il-76/78 transport jets, with the bulk of the Il-78 air-to-air refuelers acquired from 2002 onwards.
Six Airbus C295Ms were delivered between November 2005 and February 2007, but tragedy struck on November 9, 2012, when one of them crashed into mountains in France, killing all six on board.
The Presidential Transport Squadron at Boufarik has operated two glass-cockpit-configured ATR 72-600s since 2015.
Egypt’s air force has the biggest transport fleet in Africa, which is not too surprising given the size of the country and the vastness of the Sinai Desert, where a large scale anti-terrorism operation is ongoing.
It has been operating 24 ageing C-130Hs since 1976 and Lockheed Martin displayed a model of a C-130J in Egyptian Air Force markings at the EDEX show in Cairo in December.
The US giant has been pursuing the Egyptian market for several years and, according to one source, “is closer to sealing a deal than ever before”.
While Lockheed Martin has been pressing for a C-130J deal, Airbus Defence and Space has gone a step further by selling 24 C295s in several batches to Egypt between 2010 and 2016. The C295s are taking some of the workload off of the old Hercules fleet, and utilising its favourable short take-off and landing capabilities compared to the C-130.
After Colonel Gaddafi fell in 2011, the ensuing civil war saw the Libyan Air Force (LAF) splinter and the bulk of the massive transport fleet has all but gone. One of the two huge An-124s was seized in Ukraine in 2011 after the military never settled the maintenance bill, while the whereabouts of the other is unclear.
In early 2011, there were about 12 C-130H/L100-30s in the LAF inventory, and several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were keen to get them operational. Portugal’s OGMA was doing the bulk of the work, but today only a handful are still intact.
A Libyan Dawn Air Force C-130H was shot down by a Libyan National Army MiG-21MF on January 3, 2017, while a L100-30, chartered by Akakus Oil, crashed and exploded after take-off from El Shaharara oilfield on April 29, 2018. Three crew members were killed.
Morocco boasts one of the most modern transport fleets. Four C-27Js fly alongside seven CN235Ms, delivered in 1990. Five Bombardier 415s also double-up as fire-fighting assets, while there are 14 surviving C-130Hs. Two are air-to-air refuelers, working with Mirage F1Cs and F-5E/Fs, and another is used for electronic warfare work, fitted with a sideways-looking-radar.
The only African-owned C-130Js are operated by the Tunisian Air Force (TAF). They were delivered in 2013 and 2014. As well as the new generation C-130Js, the TAF also flies four ex-USAF C-130Bs and a C-130H.

1 Comment for Hercules still has the power

Ron Fox

posted 11 months ago

The date that the LAF An-124-100, registered 5A-DKN, was destroyed at Mitiga Airport was June 22, 2019.

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