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So, The Air Force Wants A C-130 Replacement By 2024

by John Reed on October 25, 2010

A Quad Tiltrotor JFTL Design Proposed By Bell Boeing A Few Years Ago

Props to Steve Trimble over at Flight Global for again noticing a new development on the air warfare side of things that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks; the U.S. Air Force is kicking off its effort to ID a potential replacement for the seemingly ageless C-130.  He posted the skinny on his blog, The Dew Line, last Friday.

The launch of an all-new airlifter development for the US Air Force could start in 2014. The new aircraft could become operational 10 years later. The aircraft would replace the 450-aircraft C-130 fleet, but the USAF may buy no more than 250. Even after at least five years of discussion, the USAF still does not know whether it wants a fixed-wing, tiltrotor, rotorcraft or airship.

These are possible implications inside a capabilities request for informationdocument posted earlier today by the USAF’s Aeronautical Systems Center about the Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL) program .

Trimble goes on to say that the the CRFI doesn’t mean too much since the Air Force won’t have its JFTL requirements laid out for some time. Still, it shows the Air Force has a basic idea of what it wants the Herk-replacement to do.

According to the CRFI, the next C-130 may have to carry up to 190% more payload and assume a new mission — mounted vertical maneuver. Taking on the MVM mission means dropping off medium-weight armored vehicles — think Bradleys, not Abrams — in places the enemy does not expect. Long, concrete runways? Not any more. Fifteen hundred feet of level, hard-packed surface? That might work. Perhaps better: a clearing big enough to land a really big tiltrotor or helicopter. 

He goes on to note that there are already plenty of ideas being thrown around by industry for this project ranging from gigantic tiltrotors to a “fat C-130″ designed by Lockheed Martin, a super-fuel efficient C-17 from Boeing and even EADS’ A400M.

So, the Air Force ideally wants an aircraft that’s considerably more capable than the C-130 to haul all that extra gear and land in tight spaces while keeping the fleet size roughly half that of the C-130 inventory. Can you say expensive?

In these fiscally tight times, one has to wonder if the Air Force can convince the powers that be that it needs a new tactical airlifter when it’s already buying new C-130Js and C-27Js for tactical airlift and 50 CV-22 Ospreys for special operations use? 

Oh, and don’t forget, the Pentagon just gave Boeing the green light to begin work on the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program to eventually upgrade hundreds of aging Herks for millions of dollars apiece.

Maybe we’ll be out of our dire financial straights well before 2014. Maybe those billions in overhead dollars the Pentagon is looking to save really will allow the air service to recap its tactical airlifters. Maybe not…

Click here to check out Trimble’s full post.

– John

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