WASHINGTON — The proposed budget bill that would fund the U.S. government for the rest of fiscal 2022 provides funding for 20 more C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.
Sixteen of the added C-130Js would go to the Air National Guard to modernize two operational wings at an additional cost of $1.8 billion, according to a summary of the omnibus spending bill released by congressional appropriators Wednesday. The remaining four, which would add $429 million to the spending bill, would go to the Reserve.
The increased spending for new C-130Js — now totaling nearly $2.4 billion, up from almost $129 million in the administration’s budget request — would be a boon to Lockheed Martin, which makes the mobility aircraft.
It also represents the bulk of the increase to the Air Force’s aircraft procurement spending lawmakers added to the administration’s FY22 budget request. The original request called for $15.7 billion in aircraft procurement spending, but the omnibus bill would spend $18.4 billion.
The Air National Guard is now in the midst of a multiyear effort to upgrade its mobility fleet and replace its three-decade-old C-130H Hercules planes with modern C-130Js.
C-130Js have improved engines with six-blade propellers that provide more thrust and efficiency than their predecessor’s four-blade propeller engines, allowing it to fly farther and faster. They also have digital avionics, upgraded displays, improved navigation and radar systems, more cargo space, a digital autopilot, and the need for a smaller aircrew.
In November 2020, the Air Force announced it had selected Air National Guard bases in Kentucky, West Virginia, Texas and Georgia to receive 24 C-130Js to replace their aging “H” models. At the time, Democrats objected to the Air Force’s surprise decision to select a fourth base — Savannah Air National Guard Base in Georgia — shortly before the runoff elections for both Senate seats there.
The Air National Guard’s director, Lt. Gen. Mike Loh, said in a roundtable with reporters last year that modernizing the force’s mobility fleet, including upgrading older C-130Hs, is crucial.
“In order to keep old aircraft around, it’s costing me a lot of money,” Loh said at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference in Maryland in September 2021.
The budget deal also would considerably increase spending on C-130 modifications, from the administration’s original $29 million request to $272 million.
This would include another $151 million for upgrading older C-130s with eight-blade propellers, and another added $79 million for engine enhancements.
These eight-blade composite propellers were designed to make C-130Hs more efficient as well as to provide more thrust during takeoff and while climbing.
In an explanatory statement, appropriators highlighted the importance of maintaining the C-130′s production line in light of diminishing manufacturing sources. The budget agreement includes an additional $26.3 million to pay for the Air Force’s C-130J diminishing manufacturing source requirements in FY22, increasing the administration’s original $113.3 million request.
The omnibus budget also would add four MQ-9 drones to the administration’s original request at a price tag of $92 million, as well as eight additional UH-N1 helicopter replacements.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.