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October 6, 2009—The keel for the Air Force’s first Special Mission Hercules aircraft was laid in ceremonies at Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Marietta, Ga., on Monday, marking the start of final assembly of this aircraft.

This new model of the C-130J Hercules is based on the KC-130J tanker that the company has supplied to the Marines Corps, but with added features like an electro-optic/infrared sensor, enhanced cargo-handling system, and higher capacity generators.

The company will build both an HC-130J search-and-rescue variant of this model for Air Combat Command and an MC-130J tanker version for Air Force Special Operations Command right on the standard C-130J production line.

Previously, standard C-130s had to be heavily modified for the HC/MC missions after assembly was finished. Now, new manufacturing methods permit most of the mods to be made during production, said Lockheed’s program manager Jack O’Banion. Doing it right on the assembly line can be done for $5 million each aircraft, as opposed to $13 million apiece the old way, he said. Deliveries can also be made eight months faster.

“These are lessons learned from the F-35,” for which Lockheed accommodates three variants on one assembly line, O’Banion told reporters at the plant.

The Air Force has said it wants 115 new HC/MC-130Js.

Of those, ACC needs 78 HC-130Js “and that’s to replace our fleet of 40-year-old HC-130s that we have out there now,” said Col. Mike Corbett, ACC’s chief of personnel recovery requirements.

AFSOC needs 37 MC-130Js to replace “our 45-year-old MC-130Es, of which we have 10, and 23 of the 40-year-old MC-130Ps,” said Col. Billy Montgomery of AFSOC. The additional aircraft would help cope with dramatically expanded taskings, he said.

So far, 22 of the new HC/MC-130J aircraft are funded.

Two HC-130Js will be delivered in 2010—including the one for which the keel was laid—with initial operating capability in 2012, and 10 MC-130s will be built in 2011. After that, it remains to be seen how and when the aging fleets is recapitalized.

“There’s a lot of competition for spaces on the C-130 line,” said Corbett.

Lockheed Martin release