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Air Force leaders support C-130J program<

by Staff Sgt. Melanie Streeter
Air Force Print News

7/28/2004 - WASHINGTON  -- Air Force officials are standing by the C-130J Hercules as the aircraft prepares to join the fight, despite a recent Department of Defense inspector general report criticizing the program.

The Air Force fully endorses the C-130J, senior Air Force acquisitions officials said. The program is one of Air Mobility Command's top priorities and the aircraft is currently planned to be ready for combat deployment by the end of 2004.

In fact, the C-130J already is supporting combat missions in Iraq as part of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, said Col. Paul Stipe, the deputy director of global reach programs for the Air Force.

"This aircraft was developed by Lockheed Martin at its own expense, and the company contributed more than a billion dollars of its own money to develop (the C-130J) for the commercial market," Colonel Stipe said. "And they were successful. They sold it to the United Kingdom, to Italy, Australia and Denmark. In fact, the United Kingdom purchased it before the United States.

"There are two basic ways to buy an aircraft," said Colonel Stipe. "One way is to pay a company to develop an aircraft that meets your needs from scratch. This way, the Air Force pays for all the research and development and all the modifications. The other way is to buy an aircraft commercially developed and then adapt it to Air Force needs. With the C-130J, the commercial route was more advantageous.

"With the commercial route, the Lockheed Martin development investment of over $1 billion is shared by the myriad of users and not just by the DOD. Another advantage was that they could deliver the first planes faster," he said.

The first aircraft were delivered in 1999. The Air Force then took the next step, testing the aircraft and integrating the military capabilities onto the commercial aircraft.

"Through testing, we've really been able to wring out the aircraft for its diverse missions," said Colonel Stipe. "As part of this process Lockheed has invested at least another $100 million in upgrades and fixes. Through all this, we are confident that we will deploy the C-130J to combat areas by the end of this year."

While the outside of the aircraft looks no different than previous models, the inside is a whole new animal, according to Lt. Col. James Dendis, acquisitions deputy chief of tactical airlift, special operations forces and trainer division.

"This looks like the older C-130s, but only on the outside," he said. "The avionics have been updated throughout, and the aircraft is arguably more complex now than our C-17 Globemaster III large cargo aircraft. It is a phenomenally complex, computer-driven, high-tech airplane."

When all of the bugs are worked out, it will be a lot easier to maintain than the older versions, said Colonel Dendis, because the computer test equipment makes troubleshooting and repairs simpler.

"The pilots love it, and the maintainers love it," Colonel Stipe said. "It's designed to be very easy to work on."

Leaders are confident the aircraft will rapidly become a valuable asset to the 21st century Air Force, despite early challenges.

"Initial rounds of operational tests showed more work was needed to bring the plane up to our very demanding standards," said Gen. John Handy, commander of U.S. Transportation Command and AMC. "The work to convert this aircraft for military use is scheduled or already completed.

"The Air Force . is confident that the C-130J will more than prove itself in global mobility operations," he added.

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