The Royal Air Force (RAF) could soon retire its entire fleet of 14 C-130J cargo aircraft.
According to the Daily Mail, the C-130J’s retirement is part of the Government’s Integrated Review of defence spending, which is also likely to include a cut of 10,000 soldiers, fewer tanks and armoured vehicles and the withdrawal of RAF fighter jets.
The move is a huge U-turn by defence chiefs who in 2019 said the C-130J would remain in service until 2035 as no other aircraft could perform its high-risk role.
The RAF will then use its 20 Airbus A400M Atlas airlifters instead.
But on Feb. 25, 2021 chairman of the Commons defence committee Tobias Ellwood MP said that he wrote to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to express his ‘grave concerns’ about the move. He had been asked by military commanders to raise concerns on their behalf.
He said: ‘Grounding the C-130J will endanger our troops and threaten the success of operations they are undertaking overseas. Scrapping this aircraft, 14 years ahead of its retirement date, would be a serious strategic error and will land poorly with NATO allies who look to Britain for leadership in the domain of elite operations. The C-130J offers significant operational advantages – it is lighter, more agile, better defended and can land and take off in hostile environments far more effectively than the A400M.’
The official documents suggest the C-130J should be retained because it meets the SAS’s specific operational requirements, stating: ‘The A400M and the C-17 [another alternative aircraft] are physically too large for certain Special Forces missions, which often take place in tight, austere spaces. The larger the aircraft the more prone they are to threats. [The A400M’s] extra 10ft of height presents a bigger target in ground ops [operations] and the larger surface area increases its vulnerability to missile threats.’
An Airbus spokesman said: ‘The A400M matches or exceeds C-130J capability. The A400M’s large cargo and the possibility to airdrop single loads of up to 16 tonnes enables the aircraft to perform missions with a larger variety of loads… Also the A400M has proven better range and speed that enables it to quickly react and operate worldwide.’
An MoD spokesman said: ‘As threats change our Armed Forces must change and they are being redesigned to confront future threats, not re-fight old wars.’
The Hercules is the RAF’s primary tactical transport aircraft and in its current C.Mk 4 and C.Mk 5 versions of the C-130J-30 and C-130J, respectively, has been the backbone of UK operational tactical mobility tasks since it was brought into service in 1999. It is frequently employed to operate into countries or regions where there is a threat to aircraft; its performance, tactics and defensive systems make it the ideal platform for such tasks.
Since its first flight in 1954, the Hercules has been everywhere and done just about anything. Aircrews have flown it to both poles, landed or airdropped military supplies to hot spots from Vietnam to Afghanistan and performed countless relief operations around the globe. The Hercules has been used to drop bombs, retrieve satellites in midair, conduct reconnaissance, support special operations forces and attack ground targets with cannons. Some models are flown as commercial transports. The C-130 has the longest, continuous military aircraft production run in history and one of the top three longest, continuous aircraft production lines of any type.
Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan / U.S. Air Force and Jonny Williams from Llandudno, United Kingdom via Wikipedia
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