PARIS — France has placed an order for four Lockheed Martin ordered Jan. 29 four C-130 aircraft – two standard C-130J transports and two KC-130Js equipped for in-flight refueling of for helicopters, the defense procurement office said.

"Direction Générale de l'Armement ordered on Jan. 29, 2016 from the US Air Force four new Hercules C-130Js," the DGA said in a Feb. 1 statement.

The first two aircraft will be delivered between at the end of 2017 and early start of 2018, with the two refueling versions due in 2019.

No value was given for the contract, which was drawn up under the foreign military sale procedure.

The C-130Js are filling a French capability gap while Airbus Defence & Space seeks technical solutions that would allow the A400M airlifter to refuel helicopters in flight and allow paratroopers to jump from the side door.

"The contract is significantly less than $650 million," said US Army Col. John "Walt" Kennedy, chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Paris here. "This is a very important capability for the French."

The $650 million figure stems from the maximum value of the offer set out in a November announcement from the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency. That amount covered potential future aircraft and equipment upgrades, further training and spares, and was intended to avoid prospective months of delay in US congressional clearing.

The core offer was valued at $355 million, comprising two Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transports and two KC-130J refueling planes, with Rolls-Royce AE-2100D turboprop engines for each and four spare engines, the DSCA said.

That core figure compares to the €330 million ($340 million) set aside in the revised multiyear defense budget for acquiring four C-130s.

Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian gave the green light for the deal at the Dec. 15 meeting of the ministerial investment committeefor an order, the DGA said.

The acquisition "is a great relief" for the French Army and special forces, keen to receive the capability to deliver troops and supplies by parachute, said a defense source who declined to be identified.

The special forces are eager to conduct inflight refueling for helicopters flying in the lown for conduct combat search and rescue role. 

The acquisition was conducted in a "very short time" and includes maintenance and crew training, the DGA said. The C-130Js will boost the Air Force transport fleet consisting of C-160 Transall and Hercules C-130H transports. These aircraft have seen intense use and suffered from harsh conditions in the field.

French Air Force airlifters and helicopters support troops deployed across five African partner nations in the Barkhane operation in the sub-Saharan Sahel region.

Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian gave the greenlight at the Dec. 15 meeting of the ministerial investment committee for an order, the DGA said.

In December, Lockheed Martin delivered the 2,500th C-130 Hercules, which has been in production since 1956. According to Lockheed, at least 68 nations fly the Hercules, with 16 nations flying the J model, which remains in production.