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Sweden pushes off C-130 replacement, dashing Brazil’s hopes of near-term KC-390 sale

May 15, 2017 (Photo Credit: Nigel Pittaway/Staff)
STOCKHOLM — The Swedish Air Force has postponed plans to upgrade its Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules fleet instead opting to do a mid-life upgrade for its six transport aircraft, an Air Force official said May 8.

Col. Magnus Liljegren, head of the Air Force department at the Swedish armed forces headquarters, said it was probable that the work would consist of updates to aircraft’s avionics systems, not structural upgrades of the airframe itself. For that reason, the C-130s will fly only until the early 2030s.

“The question is still there: Is [an upgrade] worth it or not,” he said. “As it seems now, yes, we are going for a mid-life update.”

The decision buys Sweden a little more than a decade to figure out how it will replace its C-130 inventory, which is the oldest in Europe. However, it also puts to rest questions about whether Sweden would emerge as a near-term customer for Brazil’s KC-390, produced by Embraer.

Sweden and Brazil have developed a close military partnership, in large part because of the South American country’s decision to buy 36 Gripen E/F aircraft from Saab instead of the Dassault Rafale and Boeing Super Hornet. In 2015, Maj. Gen. Micael Bydén, then the head of the Swedish Air Force, said the KC-390 was a "definite alternative if it develops the way it has been described."

Now, with Sweden’s defense budget already straining to accommodate new procurement, “it’s not on the table,” Liljegren told reporters during a briefing in Stockholm. Defense News attended the briefing as part of a Saab-sponsored media trip and accepted travel and hotel accommodations provided by the company.

Speaking to reporters days later, Brazilian Brig. Gen. Márcio Bruno Bonotto, the country’s president of the coordinating committee of combat aircraft program, sounded an exasperated note about the lack of international commitment to the KC-390. Bonotto said that he had conversations with a foreign military — not Sweden — where he expressed concerns about how Brazil had spent millions of dollars on that country’s products with no reciprocation.

“What kind of partnership is [that]?” he asked. “That's the question."  

He added: "Regarding the Swedish, we have the same approach. We don't want that [countries] buy our products, talking about the KC-390, because we are friends. I'd like to go to the competition, because I'm sure that we have a good product." 

The C-130 midlife upgrade will likely occur from 2020 to 2024, Liljegren said. The Air Force has not yet selected a defense company to conduct the upgrade work, but C-130 prime contractor Lockheed Martin would be a likely contender.

Because Sweden has only six C-130s, the work will make a major impact on aircraft availability.

“We will perhaps go down to 50 percent [availability], and 50 percent is two to three aircraft,” he said.
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