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

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

  • Mike

    Another gigantic American program destined to fail. You’ll pour billions into this and end up with a hanful of barely usable aircraft, see V-22, F-22, B-2, F-35 (its iinevitable), X-30 and i’m sure there’s plenty more as examples,.
    Sad to see you guys can’t even build aircraft anymore.

    • “Affordable” aircraft.

      We can sure as hell build ’em. But only four of ’em.

    • Jimmy C


      AND you know this how…from sitting on your hinnie parts in your Lazy Boy Chair? I don’t think you know what the hell you are talking about

    • STemplar

      And what great world power might you hail from?

  • Tad

    The C130 seems like a pretty decent plane that gets the job done reliably, why can’t we just build more of those with some modern upgrades?

    I tend to agree with Mike’s generalization that America has lost the ability to build aircraft for a reasonable price. I’d say this statement applies to ships and ground vehicles, too.

  • Howe

    I agree completely with Tad.

    I assume Mike was referring to prices, which have gotten absurd. But you can’t say America cant even build aircraft anymore…because we do have the most advanced planes in the world, in are arsenal. Its just nowadays the military wants everything to have the “gold package”.

    • Mike

      Well the F-35 sure looks like its going to come up short of the competition (T-50 and Chinese 5th gen)

      • praetorian

        Mike, I think you miss the point here. That would not be a good comparison, in my opinoin. That would be like comparing a Bradley With a T-90 tank. The better comparison would be the F-22 vs T-50 and Chinese 5th gen. By the end of 2010 we will have 187 F-22’s. T-50 is still a prototype dose not have the Saturn engines yet or
        avionics. It’s just a shell right now. Even The new SU-35 is just starting to come off of the factory line, with only 45 on order with the Russian Airforce. The 5th gen. Chinese
        is further behind & they cant even copy the the SU-27 very well. The F-35, again in my opinion, should be compared to the MIG-35/29 or Chinese Q-5 and JH-7A. The SU-34
        might make the comparison but more likley on par with F-15E

  • Beef up C130 airframe, add newer wings, improved engines, or make one a 2 engine model?
    Or al Jet mode model
    or for VTOL, Ducted Main Fans for Lift with C130 airframe for Gunship use.
    Improve cockpit & nose viewplates fwd.
    Rethink airframe for Today on CG & Save Billions.
    Host a Design Competition with OFF Shelf equip.
    C131 HERCULES 2.
    Yes Hercules 2.
    Or C130N,0,P models.
    Museumize the A,B models from early debut years.

    • C13

      A and B models have been gone for years. There already was a C-131. The 2 engine offshoot is the C-27J. Jet engines were tried, they didn’t work well for the airframe. The C-130 is a great airframe as is. Only avionics upgrades are needed. If VTOL capability is required it will have to be from an entirely new airframe. That of course means money.

    • john

      The main problem with the C-130 is that it’s cargo compartment is now too small to carry military loads, it can’t carry Bradley’s because they are physically too big to carry as well as too heavy.
      Don’t forget it was designed at the time of the Korean War to carry the sort of vehicles and loads at the time.
      The best thing the US Government could do is to buy the A400 and build it in the US. Don’t forget that EADS has a manufacturing plant in the US building Lakota Heliocopters, so they could expand the production plant to build the A400M. Also EADS Airbus is already trying to persuade the USAF to buy the A400M as a replacement for the C-130.

  • William Peterson

    Yes, we’re building a lot of C-130Js…
    Because Congress keeps funding the program, not because the Air Force wants it!
    Something Big, Expensive, and Hideously Impractical is more the USAFs style, anyways…

  • chaos0xomega

    While I think it sounds like a cool concept… it also sounds impractical and expensive. The Air Force is already stretched thin when it comes to planes, and they want to stretch that out even more? I get that the fleet could in theory move more than the current fleet of C-130s, but as we have seen from the past few attempts at bringing new aircraft into the inventory, we never end up with nearly as many aircraft as we intended to, and those aircraft aren’t all needed in one place either. Consolidating like that will make it harder to conduct operations in more than one or two areas simultaneously.

    • BadKarma226

      currently the AF has enough heavy lift aircraft to transport a full battalion anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours. The “tactical” side of things, meaning C-130s for STOL, we’re a little tight. Fighter wise……… well, lets just say our fighter jockies outnumber our fighters 6 to 1…

  • blight

    So as the army gets itself into new places, we need /less/ airlift? Soon we’ll be a light infantry/tankette army that looks exactly like pre-WW2 Poland. We’ll put up a good fight, but we won’t /win/.

    A new VTOL-lifter that can move Bradleys is still limited by the fact that they will probably be moving /one at a time/. And if you reduce procurements, you’re bringing even less vehicles per lift, and it’s coming out of your resupply and theater reserves.

    We may need to design lighter vehicles that can be mass transported if we want to play the airmobile armor game.

    • C130LM

      For the air mobility game what is needed is something like the sikorsky sky crane. A large helicopter fitted to lift and move armor realatively short diatances into combat, say…150-200 miles from forward operating bases to the battlefield du jour.

      • praetorian

        I miss that heli. Still see it on some logging show

  • Brian

    For some reason the thought of what a VTOL/SVTOL could do for an aircraft carrier is interesting. Giving carriers a medium armor assault option with this heavy lift capability would open up a huge new tactical advantage to carrier groups. (if they were upgraded to use them, a tall order)

    • Jacob

      Yeah but is it really that valuable of a capability? We can already crush the likes of Iran or North Korea in a frontal ground assault, so at this point I’m putting this in the “luxury” category.

      • C130LM

        We have a similar capability with our LHA’s already. minus the airlifting armor part.

      • Brian

        I would think the threat of an armoured assualt that can flank and directly assault the rear would be a huge deterrent. Based on a carrier or a maybe a modified super tanker, we could threaten a large number of aggressors with a relatively small force.

        • blight

          Then it means any coastal power is better served investing in stealthy cruise missiles than ATGM’s.

          Airlifting armor would probably be better than the mythical EFV capability. At least an aircraft can go faster than the ~40 kt of an EFV.

          It would probably be cost prohibitive to outfit a CVN to carry tanks with only one way to get them off, and the present gator ships don’t carry that many tanks to begin with (le sigh…). Cargo ships sounds intriguing, but would require a Skycrane-esque vehicle to carry tanks one by one to a landing zone (assuming the military never gets over its obsession with ultra-heavy vehicles that can only be moved one at a time).

          • Brian

            I was thinking about modifying the super oil tankers. I think they are big enough to hold a few tanks with a flight deck of VTOL c130’s. At the range these craft will operate I would imagine land based cruise missiles would be ineffective.

            Medium armor with active defenses is clearly the future of combat, but if you look at the truely big game changer, is that this concept would allow us to base and support in locations we would never have been able to before as well as setup in faster times. Logistics, logistics, logistics.

          • blight

            Supertankers may not be structurally suited towards easy modification to carry bulk cargo. They’re designed around double-walled oil tanks, and gutting a oil tanker to remove the tanks and follow up with decking makes the modification cost prohibitive. A RO-RO ship or other large container vessel may be better suited.

            I’m pondering if a Skycrane system would load vehicles faster and more efficiently, but you’d need to palletize to see real efficiencies in loading. VTOL C-130s landing to load/unload might be better after all…

    • FormerDirtDart

      I really doubt the Navy would be happy at the thought armored vehicles driving around their flight decks. Plus, have you seen how much deck space was taken up by just a C-130? What size force could be launched from a single carrier in one lift, maybe a platoon? Seems like a vastly impractical use of resources for what would not even provide a minimal tactical advantage.

  • We’re certainly in a year where need beats pie-in-the-sky dream programs. The ability to vertically airlift medium armored vehicles would be nice, but do we really need it? This aircraft would be a nice capability, but it also mitigates all of the things that make the C-130 great.

  • John

    Speaking of not being able to produce aircraft, the A400M might be in production by 2024 ;)

  • STemplar

    I get the basic idea of being able to set down IFVs where un-expected. Kind of like I get the idea of storming 2 BDEs onto a contested shoreline. Where both ideas come up short is precisely where I would want to do this. Just being able to doesn’t cut it in these financial terms anymore. Now if some sort of super lifter VTOL aircraft could be made that had commercial spin off applications it might be possible, but as a stand alone military program way too expensive.

  • C130LM

    Too much fuel. Impossible with current propulsion technologies.

    • john

      Actually, we Brits actually started developing a V/STOL Medium Transport Aircraft with a 15tonne lift capacity in the 1960’s but was cancelled by the then Labour Government in 1965. It was powered by four RR Pegasus Engines. See this link for details:

  • Jimbo

    The C-130 is a basic airframe – wings, engines and a cargo hold. That’s really all that’s needed in a transport plane. Why make it more complicated?

    Indeed the Skycrane choppers are good to dump IFVs somewhere unexpected but let’s keep the simplicity, people!

  • “You have to remember,” Washington, DC is the Golden goose, to the DOD. All you have to do, is think you might need something, sometime, somehow, & somewhere, and Washington will lay out the money !!!~!!!!!

  • Maybe the Air force need to lease some of the A300M and see how they do. then go from there.

  • Belesari

    LOL What ya’ll dont know the replacement for the C130? The next model of course.

    There is no reason to replace the c130. Its not going toe to toe with fighters. Its a big stupid dependable as hell dog of a aircraft.

    There is no need to replace everything with tiltrotors and make EVERYTHING VTOL.

    And this is coming from a guy who is a osprey supporter.

    The airforces freaking obsession with technocrap is starting to annoy the piss out of me. They hate the A-10…but wont give it to the army to do CAS with (even when ordered by congress). Hate the AC-130. Hate anything that doesnt have massive jet engines, isnt stealthy, or doesnt make pilots feel sexy. I myself would rather fly a C-130 or varient or a A10 than a fighter.

    Besides hogs have bigger guns :)

  • pedestrian

    Other than VTOL capabilities, I believe the answer is blended wing body.

  • Deltaflot

    Something not right with letting Boeing upgrade the electronics of a Lockheed product. :)

  • John

    Would it be possible to mod a c-130 into a SVTOL? I’m not a structural engineer but maybe something they should look into. Hell, we got all the designs for the Herc, so see what it would take to convert it and go form there. If it costs too much or is completely unreasonable, see what you can re-use off of the c-130s. Maybe the cargo bay/fuselage/nose/tail section….who knows.

    • Belesari

      The bad thing is the C130 is a vtol.

      It even has rocket assited takeoff.

  • Joe

    Google: LTV XC-142 (1965 Tilt Wing Cargo aircraft)…maybe it’s time has come????

    Google: Mil V-12 (Russias Worlds Largest Helicopter..This is Massive, built in 1960’s)

    So, Have we’ve gone back to the 1960″s??? Groovey dude!

  • seeker6079

    “The C-130 is a basic airframe – wings, engines and a cargo hold. That’s really all that’s needed in a transport plane. Why make it more complicated?”
    Because that’s where the graft is. And if you budgeted your armed forces for what they need for security instead of what they want for themselves and their own self-perpetuation then there might actually be some money left for schools, hospitals and infrastructure, and, lord, you can’t permit that, could you?

    Jeez, at what point do people say, “hey, ya know, I’d rather have an overpass that doesn’t fall down than an Osprey or C130X-1-million taking people to yet another damnfool war on the other side of the effing planet?” Seriously! You can be pro-defence and be against your military sucking up ever-increasing amounts of GDP built on the rickety foundation of money borrowed from the Chinese.

    • Jimbo

      Once the overpass has fallen down?

    • William C.

      But the military isn’t sucking up ever-increasing amounts of the GDP. Historically it is at a low point. We should be spending at least 4% of GDP for defense purposes in my opinion. Use the money saved by not “nation-building” in 3rd world hellholes to get the new vehicles, guns, and aircraft we need.

      If you can’t handle infrastructure with the other trillions of dollars, something is wrong.

      The C-130J is fine for today, but sometime before 2050 we should have a “next-gen” transport flying.

  • Benjamin

    I think for now the only thing I would invest in an improved C-130 that cuts down on its RCS. This does not mean it needs to be a stealth aircraft. The C-130 and C-17 have a large amount of improvements that can be done to them before we should look at any new design aircraft. I think the only new design aircraft we should look at is a new bomber.

  • MattMusson

    Let Burt Rutan design it. Then actually build it with a tough Composite fuselage and off the shelf engines and electronics.

    Or, design some solid gold POS that makes everyone rich and never gets built.

  • Shawn

    Does anybody know how this will affect the Marine Corps? Will they try to replace the KC-130 Hercules for every branch with this new aircraft? The Marine Corps was the lead branch on the development of the MV-22 so how would they implement the new aircraft into the squadrons. How would this affect someone trying to get a federal contract job with a federal contract company? Would being a technician on a MV-22 Osprey suffice? Please reply.

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