PARIS — US officers are due to brief French military and procurement staff early next week, following the Pentagon's publishing of a $650 million price tag for four C-130J airlifters offered to France, French and US defense sources said.

That estimate, announced on Tuesday by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, far exceeds the €330 million (US $354 million) France has set aside, sparking concern within the French armed forces keen for to acquire the Hercules aircraft.

There are political, military and industrial aspects to a French purchase of ance buying the C-130J, two French defense sources said. Decision-makers are already weighing possible thinking of implications for the presidential election in the spring of 2017. An acquisition of US kit might hurt prospects for the Airbus A400M, seen as key to the European industrial base.

Meanwhile, French troops are engaged in combat in Africa, and seek full tactical support. The defense minister is expected to decide on the Hercules by the end of December.

The US will explain the details of the Pentagon announcement to the French officials.

"We are working with our very valuable partner to supply an important medium capability," said US Army Col. John "Walt" (eds: please keep the middle name)) Kennedy, chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation, here.

The planned procurement reflects the eagerness of the French services to fly the C-130Js to support some 3,500 troops deployed across the sub-Saharan Sahel region. Airbus is late on delivering the A400M transport plane, which lacks the inflight refueling capability for helicopters seen as a necessary for combat search and rescue and special forces. 

The US officers will brief the French chief of staff, Air Force and Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office (eds: please stay with office; this is not an agency), as part of a presentation of a draft letter of acceptance to the French request.

That $650 million figure covers potential future aircraft and equipment upgrades, further training and spares, and is intended to speed up delivery and avoid months of delay as requests work their way through the lengthy US congressional clearing process.

The core offer, valued at $355 million, is for 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.

An unofficial estimate for defensive aids subsystems is some $50 million, a French source said.

A total $405 million, comprising the four planes and the defensive subsystems, would bring the offer within the realm of budgetary possibility, in view of the €330 million set aside in the French revised multiyear budget and the constraints of value added tax.

The defensive subsystems included AN/ALE 47 electronic countermeasure dispensers, AN/AAR-47A(V)2 missile warning systems, AN/ALR-56M radar warning receivers, and also radios and electronics.

The French Air Force is keen to acquire C-130J models, which would complement the 14 strong fleet of 14 C-130Hs.

The political and operational significance of acquiring the C-130J can be seen in the joint chief of staff announcing a refueling for the first time of a French Caracal military helicopter by an American Hercules in the skies over Africa.

"This first inflight refueling conducted in an overseas operation opens the door to new possibilities in terms of planning and conduct of operations," the chief of staff said in a statement. The helicopter is part of the Pyrenees squadron based at N'Djamena, Chad, and part of the Barkhane mission.

"A medium transport is urgent," a French officer said. The A400M flies essentially a strategic role, with long range and large cargo.

Airbus has acknowledged the aerodynamic difficulty for the A400M to refuel helicopters, due to the strong prop wash from its four powerful turboprop engines.

"Nearly impossible," Eric Isorce, head of flight tests and operations, at Airbus Defense & Space told journalists Oct. 26 in Seville. But Airbus has not abandoned the work.

Airbus is looking into extending the refueling hose to resolve the problem, and is also working on a new hose and drogue kit for the C-235 and C-295 transports. France flies the C-235 but lacks the C-295.

The French Air Force is keen to see Airbus develop and equip the A400Ms so the planes can play a full tactical role, consisting of flying at low altitude, equipped with defensive aids, and dropping troops and cargo by parachute.

"The self defensive capability is a real necessity," a French officer said.

The current seven planes fulfill logistical missions by flying cargo and unloading by the ramp. Airbus is in negotiations with the seven client nations on a detailed timetable to deliver the full capabilities of the A400M by 2018.

The A400M, launched on a €20 billion budget, is the largest European defense program. The difficulties in the bringing the plane into operational service have slowed led to a slower deliveries and led to lower capabilities than planned, but new technology is seen as key to the industrial base, an area championed by the DGA.


More In Training & Sim