The RAAF plans to spend at least A$9 billion on a fleet of turboprop transport planes and declines to say how many will be bought and when they will be delivered – or even why the decision has been made.
Australia took delivery of the first batch of 12 current-generation C-130Js in 1999, and as all aircraft eventually wear out, they understandably need to be replaced at some point. However, the lack of information raises the eternal question: what is Defense trying to hide this time?
One of the explanations for the secrecy surrounding the AIR 7404 Phase 1 project is that the RAAF is trying to make a decision before the Defense Strategic Review is complete.
The C-130 Hercules is an excellent propeller-driven transport aircraft family due to its robustness and reliability. Developed by the USAF, the first flight took place in 1954, and Australia was one of the first buyers to place an order in 1959.
Various models have been in continuous service with the RAAF ever since and have provided significant support to combat operations – including disaster relief and humanitarian missions – both internationally and in Australia.
Despite this impressive record of success – they have been operated by 70 countries at various times – they are not the only ones.
Realizing that a turboprop heavy tactical transport aircraft was needed – jets are often included in the strategic transport category- Europe began considering replacing various types of aircraft in the 1980s. This led to the development of the A400M. , which had its maiden flight in 2009.
The A400M is a larger, more modern four-engine turboprop capable of carrying twice the payload of a C-130J over two distances. It has excellent handling characteristics, including short takeoff and landing on unprepared runways.
This is a relatively nascent program, which 10 countries have commissioned, the latest being Indonesia.
Like many new aircraft, it has suffered from delays and cost overruns, not least because it includes features like contra-rotating propellers and advanced electronics. It is undoubtedly more expensive, although its price depends on factors such as the volume of the order.
As a guide, for three C-130Js, you could buy two newer, more capable A400Ms.
The British Royal Air Force is so impressed with its fleet of A400Ms that two years ago, it decided to retire its C-130Js ahead of schedule.
The question is: why has a modern, competent, and highly effective air force decided to get rid of its C-130Js while Australia has done the opposite? We don’t know because Defense is so obsessed with secrecy that it doesn’t want to reveal its reasons.
According to information, the Pentagon is required to provide to Congress, Australia has requested 24 new C-130Js, which will cost taxpayers, along with a host of support equipment, secure radios, electronic warfare self-protection, etc. Australians a staggering $6.35 billion (A$9.19 billion).
Since we have no idea of the delivery schedule and everything else, the figure may be spread over a large number of years. In trying to get to the bottom of the issue, Defense dodges questions with vague answers such as:
“Defense has been in contact with several aircraft manufacturers and has received information on all available options for medium air mobility. The relative merits of each aircraft type have been assessed against Australian capability requirements.”
In the unlikely event that any serious evaluation has occurred, it was likely carried out by junior officers concerned about their prospects for promotion.
The only professional way to get the high-quality data needed for a $9 billion acquisition is not to look it up on Wikipedia but to go through a rigorous process of defining operational requirements and writing an RFP document. (RFT) that is sent to the industry.
The result of that process may be the selection of the C-130J or the A400M. It could even be the Embraer KC-390, an innovative Brazilian twin-engine military transport aircraft halfway between the first two features.
While Defense assessments are not without controversy, at least this way, the public can be sure their money is being spent on the right equipment and for the right reasons.
One can perfectly understand the need to keep combat aircraft performance secret, knowing that adversaries constantly seek the slightest advantage. But refusing to provide any useful information about the purchase of a $9 billion transport plane appears to cover up a decision made without solid justification.