The RAAF is expected to purchase 24 new versions of the Hercules for up to $10 billion to replace its aging fleet of the iconic aircraft.
The defense earlier this week said it was committed to “replacing and augmenting” the Lockheed Martin C-130, but the US State Department appeared to divulge more details of a potential deal when it officially approved the transaction.
If the agreement goes through, Australia would acquire the new ‘130J-30’ variant, which will lengthen the fuselage by more than 4 metres.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement that Australia is one of the country’s “key allies in the western Pacific”.
“The strategic location of this political and economic power is instrumental in ensuring peace and economic stability in the region,” the DSCA said.
“It is critical to the U.S. national interest to assist our ally in developing and maintaining a strong and operational self-defense capability.”
The purchase would include spare parts, communications equipment and countermeasures to protect the Hercules from enemy fire.
The Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules has been in production for more than 60 years, making it the longest continuously produced military aircraft.
A total of 48 have supported ADF operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and Vietnam, and humanitarian disaster relief missions in Pakistan, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific.
Australia received its first batch in December 1958, becoming the first nation to use the aircraft outside of the US Air Force.
The four-engine, medium-lift turboprop aircraft increased transportability and reduced reliance on piston-powered aircraft like the C-47.
The latest J variant was first operated by the RAAF in 1999.
It comes after the defense on Tuesday said it had reached out to a number of aircraft manufacturers and received information on all available medium air mobility options.
“The relative merits of each aircraft type have been assessed against Australia’s capability requirements,” it said in a statement.
“The Defense is seeking a low-risk, all-role certified, proven, mature and affordable replacement aircraft that meets Australia’s air mobility requirements. The project principles have incorporated lessons learned from previous major defense acquisitions as well as operational experience with the current C-130J fleet.
“Defence has determined that the new C-130J aircraft represents the only option that will meet all of Australia’s capability requirements and ensure Defense’s medium air mobility without introducing significant cost, schedule and capability risks.
“As a result, new C-130J aircraft will be the only option the Department of Defense will advance to government approval in 2023 as part of Project AIR 7404 Phase 1.”
The federal government’s confidence in the Hercules comes after last month it highlighted the Spartans’ inability to land on battlefields as an example of the previous Liberal federal government’s mismanagement of defense projects.
The Albanian government said it found at least 28 projects were behind schedule by a total of 97 years, while 18 were also over budget.
It claimed the cost explosion had hit $6.5 billion and promised a raft of reforms to stem future complications.
Australia currently has 10 Spartans operated by No. 35 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley which is now focused on peacetime operations such as search and rescue and aeromedical operations.
The RAAF originally bought the aircraft as a replacement for the Caribou to fit between the Chinook and the larger Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster.