PARIS — A four-strong batch of C-130J Super Hercules airlifters ordered by France is the start of a planned larger fleet of the aircraft for the French Air Force, according to a source close to the project.
There are plans “eventually to expand the fleet” of C-130J, the source said Tuesday on condition of anonymity. Further orders of the turboprop transports are expected from 2025.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on Monday welcomed the first of the four Lockheed Martin C-130Js at a formal ceremony at the Orleans air base, south of the capital. That plane arrived Dec. 22.
The second C-130J is expected to be delivered in May or June, said Tony Frese, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for business development for air mobility and maritime missions.
The last two of the Super Hercules in the KC-130J version are earmarked for the French special forces, which are keen to have aerial refueling of helicopters, the source said. These two planes are due for delivery next year.
There had been a plan in 2015 to arm the first two French C-130 airlifters with Raytheon’s Griffin missile, a weapon fitted on the C-130 flown by U.S. special forces.
The French Air Force in the meantime flies an aging 14-strong fleet of C-130H Hercules, which are being modernized to meet standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The service sees the C-130 as a “medium transport” that fits between the four-engine Airbus A400M and twin-engine Casa light airlifter. The C-130 will also replace the twin-engine C-160 Transall, which will be retired from service in 2023.
Acquisition of the C-130J opens a service life of 40 years.
There is close cooperation between French and U.S. military services, with the latter carrying 10 percent of the cargo in theater for French overseas deployments.
The French and American armed forces also work together to support interoperability. French pilots of the the 1/67 Helicopter Squadron at Cazaux air base, southwest France, flew three Caracal helicopters with two U.S. Air Force MC-130J in the Dark Dune exercise last month. That exercise led to certification of the French crews for day and night in-flight refueling.