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February 12, 2008— If the Air Force’s Fiscal 2009 budget plan is any indication of the next few fiscal years, the service is laying the seeds to buy a batch of C-130J transport aircraft as its current multiyear deal with Lockheed Martin comes to an end, and a good portion of its combat-delivery E model Hercules aircraft remains flight restricted.

Senior Air Force officials told reporters last week that USAF seeks $69 million in its C-130J accounts in Fiscal 2009 for advanced procurement of parts for additional Super Hercules aircraft that it would buy starting in Fiscal 2010. The officials made these statements even though the Air Force currently has no orders for additional combat-delivery C-130Js beyond the existing multiyear deal with Lockheed Martin that ends this fiscal year. Under this original multiyear deal, which includes both Air Force and Marine Corps airplanes, USAF’s final nine aircraft will be built in Fiscal 2008 and delivered in Fiscal 2010.

When describing the proposed new buy of C-130Js beyond that, the USAF officials wouldn’t commit to a new multi-year procurement, but left the door open for one. The additional buys, one of these officials said, are “not necessarily a new multiyear, but we will be going out looking to increase essentially eight per year.” Indeed eight C-130Js are slotted each year from Fiscal 2010 through Fiscal 2013, according to the service’s newly released budget justification documents for the five-year period starting in Fiscal 2009.

Still, nothing is official according to Lockheed Martin. Spokesman Peter Simmons said the company recently provided an unsolicited firm-fixed-price multiyear procurement offer to the Defense Department to deliver 24 C-130J aircraft per year for five years, with deliveries beginning in 2011 and ending in 2015. This deal could encompass not only Air Force aircraft, but also additional KC-130J tankers for the Marine Corps, he said.

The proposal would generate savings upwards of 10 percent over annual buys of the same amount of aircraft, Simmons said, while meeting the stipulations set by Congress in the existing multiyear. As of now, the Air Force hasn’t come down one way or the other. “We look forward to working with our customer to finalize all details necessary for a contract award,” Simmons said.

The inclusion of tankers in Lockheed’s bid is no accident. The Air Force plans to replace old HC-130P/N combat search and rescue aircraft with a new C-130J-based combat rescue tanker and its special operations MC-130E/P platforms with newer C-130J-based models starting in Fiscal 2009, with two and four programmed, respectively. From Fiscal 2010 through Fiscal 2013, the Air Force intends to buy four HC-130 replacements and four MC-130 successors annually. However, even here, Lockheed Martin claims nothing has been set down on paper.

“We have received no formal notification of a USAF acquisition decision for the HC/MC-130 recapitalization program,” Simmons said.  He added that the company could provide the new aircraft using the existing KC-130J tanker design as the baseline for them to meet the Air Force’s aggressive schedule. USAF wants to achieve initial operational capability in Fiscal 2012 for both the HC-130 and MC-130 replacements.

The Air Force itself says in its budget justification documents that it plans to purchase modified KC-130Js in Fiscal 2009 and Fiscal 2010 to meet an “immediate requirement” and will subsequently conduct a business case analysis to see what the appropriate acquisition strategy is to procure the remaining aircraft. 

In Fiscal 2008, the Air Force plugged in about $75.2 million for advanced procurement and research, development, test, and evaluation activities to begin the HC/MC-130 recapitalization.