Pakistani soldiers load relief supplies, bound for the Swat district and Buner, onto a Pakistani Air Force C-130 aircraft. (Agence France-Presse)
ISLAMABAD — An upgrade package for Pakistan’s aging C-130 Hercules transport aircraft fleet has been welcomed, with analysts saying it will allow the venerable transports to function until eventual replacement.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress of a proposed US $100 million Foreign Military Sales upgrade package for Pakistan’s Hercules transport planes. The notification states Pakistan has requested “avionics upgrades, engine management and mechanical upgrades, cargo delivery system installation, and replacement of outer wing sets on six aircraft. Also included are spare and repair parts, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support.”
In the face of “airworthiness and obsolescence issues,” the notification states the upgrade package “should ensure continued viability for an additional 10-15 years.”
The fleet is of considerable age, with five of the aircraft C-130B models and 11 C-130Es. Though the latter are “new” in terms of service with Pakistan, some are ex-Australian Vietnam War vintage that were acquired in 2005.
Except for the question of age, the fleet is suitable for requirements, says former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley..
“The fixed-wing transport fleet is adequate for the requirements placed upon it and I do not think that there will be any expansion of its role,” he said.
Adding, “Pakistan isn’t going to become involved in any long-distance military commitment. Upgrade and eventual one-for-one replacement are all that’s required.”
Analyst and former air commodore Kaiser Tufail says that process should start now.
“The PAF would do well to start looking for a C-130 replacement, starting with the oldest ones, which have outlived their utility,” he said.
The C-130s are the mainstay of the Air Force’s transport fleet, and are supplemented by four smaller Indonesian-built IPTN CN-235s, and four second-hand Il-78MP Midas multirole tanker/transports from Ukraine.
However, Tufail says that even if more of these other two types are acquired they are not capable of picking up the strain should the C-130s not be replaced.
“The CN-235 is not the right aircraft as it was meant to haul minimal loads like aircraft engines, etc., on shorter routes. It does not have the capacity to rapidly move a load of equipment for rapid deployment of a detachment of fighters, a job which two to three C-130 sorties can easily fulfill,” Tufail says.
Though the Il-78s can carry more than the C-130s, Tufail says, the plane “is an outdated, lumbering aircraft. Even an upgraded engine and a glass cockpit would not help compare to the newer C-130J models.”
There has been speculation for some time the Air Force hopes to acquire more of these heavy-lift types, though, and Tufail says an upgraded variant could be suitable, but not more of the same type currently in service.
What alternatives there are is debatable, but Tufail said even with a possible Chinese option there is the ever-resent question of finances.
“Chinese options could be explored, but in that case it might have to do more with offerings of a soft loan or other sweeteners than the aircraft capabilities, in its entirety,” he said.