Congressional Pressure Saves C-130J Program
Bowing to bipartisan pressure from Senators, Congress, and Governors, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has decided to continue with the oft-criticized C-130J Hercules transport aircraft program rather than ending the 5-year, $4.1 billion contract with Lockheed Martin in FY 2006 as planned and cutting about $2 billion. “We believe it is in the best interests of the department to complete the multiyear contract… New information has become available regarding the contract termination costs…” said Rumsfeld in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Lockheed is expected to build another 55 C-130Js, with a price tag of about $66 million each. This makes the C-130J significantly more expensive, in constant dollars, than the earlier versions it seeks to replace (e.g. C-130E: $11 million in constant dollars).
Rumsfeld’s concession caps an extended period of successful lobbying by Congressional delegations from Georgia and West Virginia, where the C-130Js are made, and from several other state delegations where C-130s are based. Politicians have often used the presence of aircraft at military bases as a justification to keep them open, which makes it advantageous for local bases with new C-130Js (more are likely to be added) and very old C-130 aircraft (first in line for replacement and hence ongoing justification for the base) to see continued production.
The C-130J is the successor to the C-130 Hercules E-H models that currently form the backbone of America’s tactical airlift. But the newer J version was developed as a private venture by Lockheed with over 70% redesigned and new parts. Compared to the earlier production C-130E, maximum speed is up 21%, climb time is down 50%, cruising altitude is 40% higher, fuel efficiency is 15% higher despite 29% more thrust, and its range is 40% longer. The C-130J also offers substantially improved avionics via an all-digital “glass cockpit,” plus cargo handling features, reduced manpower requirements, and lower operating support and life-cycle costs.
C-130J variants have won a number of foreign sales contracts (Australia, Denmark, Italy, Kuwait, UK), but the aircraft has also had a history of problems and failing reports from U.S. agencies.
According to the U.S. Inspector General’s 2004 report, “not one C-130J delivered aircraft was fully compliant with the contract specification.” Nor has it yet been declared operationally suitable or effective by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. In addition, the hurricane hunter versions of the C-130J have experienced radar problems and the aircraft’s six-blade propellers have become dangerously pitted in bad weather. Because it has not yet been declared operationally suitable, most American C-130Js remain in the United States at the time of this writing (May, 2005).
The C-130J is one of two major weapons systems from Lockheed Martin’s plants in Marietta, GA that face potential cuts in the FY 2006 budget. The other is the F/A-22 Raptor aircraft.
- Lockheed’s Code One Magazine (Fourth Quarter, 2005) – Desert Haulers. Col. Lawrence P. Gallogly is the commander of the 143rd Airlift Wing, with more than 5,500 hours as a pilot in the C-130A, C-130E, and C-130J. This very positive article describes the 143rd’s combat deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Their C-130J’s significantly higher cargo capacity in hot climates and at high altitudes was cited as an especially important feature.
- Oct 16/06: USAF Air Mobility Command declares that the C-130J has reached Initial Operating Capability, and notes readiness rates from initial combat deployments.