BERLIN — The German Federal Ministry of Defence is in talks with partner nations to jointly operate a limited fleet of C-130 Hercules aircraft, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the discussions are underway with the Netherlands, the US, Britain and France, all of whom have C-130s in their inventory. The US operates more than a dozen C-130s of the 86th Airlift Wing from German soil.

The German air force is pushing for a transport aircraft smaller than the Airbus A400M for operations on small and poorly fortified airfields. The deployment of Bundeswehr troops in the North African country of Mali has shed light on the shortcomings of the relatively heavy A400M in adverse conditions. The Airbus plane is also considered as not ideally suited for the needs of special forces.

In 2021, the last aircraft of the obsolete C-160 Transall — a two-engine transporter similar to the Hercules — will retire, and Germany will encounter what officials consider a capability gap. As of now, only for the Transall self-protection equipment is available while it is still under development for the A400M.

Sources said the talks with France are at an advanced level. The neighboring country — also a user of Transall and A400M aircraft — recently ordered additional C-130s to fill gaps caused by the delayed delivery of A400Ms and the approaching obsolescence of the Transall.

Sebastian: This is about as far as I got. It's not very clear this is a big deal, and there are no quotes from the "sources" at all. In addition to flying special forces into theater, the French also want the C-130 for the in-flight refueling of helicopters. It's unclear whether a future version of the A400M could perform such a feat. When in 2022 Germany is expected to receive new heavy-lift helicopters to replace CH-53Gs, Germany's armed forces also will have the requirement for air refueling.

A prerequisite for Germany to participate in a common C-130 fleet is the right to dispose of some of the aircraft at some point. Beside the co-financing, the German MoD is mulling to procure a limited — probably only single-digit — number of C-130 for such a pooling solution.