Paris — France formally decided to order four C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the US, marking a major step toward filling a pressing need for tactical transport and in-flight refueling, two French defense specialists said.

"Our defense minister has just authorized the purchase of four US C-130Js," one of the sources said Dec. 15 (eds: correct).

That key decision was taken at a Dec. 15 meeting of the ministerial investment committee and clears the way for French officials to negotiate a purchase and speedy delivery under a foreign military sale deal, the second source said.

The sources declined to give their names as they were not cleared for briefing on a subject seen as politically sensitive.

The Direction générale de l'armement procurement office declined comment.

"The decision has been taken," the second source said. "This is very good news for the armed forces, particularly the Army and special forces."

The French services are eager for an early delivery, faster than the standard 36 months once a contract has been signed.

There are doubts whether the contract will be signed before the end of the year, as some staff are due to go on leave as Dec. 25 nears. The order is expected to exceed an earmarked €330 million budget, but the extra funds will likely be found through adjustments in the budget, the second source said.

An option of buying secondhand Lockheed Martin C-130Js from the British Royal Air Force failed to win favor, as these aircraft were seen as worn out after flying intensively in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US government assures the C-130J will stay in service until 2050, seen as a long-term commitment to support investment in the aircraft, the second source said.