July 19, 2010
FARNBOROUGH — In an annual look at the retrofit and modernization prospects for the Lockheed Martin C-130, Forecast International finds that the aircraft will continue to receive generous funding, even though its largest program is at risk of termination.
With a total estimated cost of $4.6 billion, the Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) is intended to replace obsolescent and outdated cockpit avionics on 218 aircraft with modern, sustainable equivalents. In addition to offering the usual benefits of a cockpit upgrade – reduced crew workload and increased functionality – the new avionics systems would interface more easily with future avionics retrofits. The upgrade program has been in active development since 2001 with Boeing as the prime contractor; however, development has not gone smoothly.
"The original United States Air Force requirement was for 434 aircraft, but is now down to 218,” said Adam Feld, Aerospace/Defense Retrofit & Modernization Editor at Forecast International. “The Navy is also seeking funding for 47 Navy and USMC aircraft, but the program has come under heavy fire due to its price tag. Even with Boeing trying to keep costs down, the Air Force just isn't sure there's room in the budget."
And the USAF has taken action on that uncertainty, calling for the program's termination in favor of a series of less ambitious upgrades that provide only the necessary functionality. According to USAF Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, the AMP is simply too expensive.
"Congress doesn't appear all that enthusiastic about cutting the AMP," says Feld. "The United States has already spent about $1.5 billion on development and there's also international interest to consider. Saudi Arabia is looking to spend as much as $800 million upgrading its own C-130 fleet, for instance. For the time being, Congress is funding the program but also deferring it. According to the FY10 budget request, we're not going to see a real increase in production until 2015, which would give the global economy some more time to recover and may relieve some of the pressure to cut spending."
Yet even if the AMP does get terminated, that doesn't mean the C-130 will have to go without. Feld notes that "if a program is necessary, the United States will find a way to fund it. It may not be as extensive as intended in terms of number of aircraft or the quality of the upgrade, and it may take some time, but the minimum need will be met. Even if the AMP is terminated in favor of smaller programs, the aircraft may still receive that extra functionality through follow-on programs over the coming years or decades. The overall cost in time and money will be higher, but it will get where it needs to be."
Even with the AMP at risk, the C-130 remains a popular platform that provides a wide array of services to more than 60 countries worldwide. It serves as a transport, aerial refueling tanker, electronic warfare platform, close air support gunship, and firefighting airtanker, and even flies search-and-rescue and special operations missions. Despite its age, demand is on the rise, and Lockheed Martin has had to boost production of the latest variant, the C-130J. The USAF is funding an ambitious electronic warfare modification for the aircraft known as "Compass Call," and the USMC is mounting weapons on its KC-130 tankers under the Harvest Hawk program. "The AMP is a big program, but it won't make or break the C-130," says Feld.
A detailed look at all major retrofit programs for the C-130 is available in the August supplement of Forecast International's Airborne Retrofit & Modernization Forecast.