Five new Super Hercules to join Air Force fleet

The Coalition Government has confirmed five Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft will be purchased to replace the existing fleet, Defence Minister Ron Mark announced today.

“Last year, Cabinet selected these aircraft as the preferred option to replace the current Hercules fleet. Procurement of the Super Hercules has been my highest capability priority as Minister of Defence,” Ron Mark said.

“Along with the new fleet, the $1.521 billion project will deliver a full mission flight simulator and other supporting infrastructure.

“Generations of New Zealanders have grown up and grown old with the Hercules, and they know these aircraft are an essential first line of response. This decision ensures the Defence Force will have the capability it needs to meet expected future tasks.

“This fleet will ensure the Defence Force can continue to support New Zealand’s community resilience, our national security, our contribution to our Pacific neighbours and the wider global community.

“This decision ensures tactical airlift will remain available to undertake operations in New Zealand’s immediate region, as well as support our interests in Antarctica, often in support of other government agencies.

“The new aircraft will carry a greater payload, is faster and can travel further than the current Hercules aircraft. 

“Each aircraft will also be fitted with additional specialist capabilities, including a wide bandwidth, high speed satellite communications system and an electro-optical/infra-red camera.

“This equipment will make our new Super Hercules among the most capable in the world. The satellite communications system will allow imagery, video and data to be streamed in real time, and the camera allows for aerial surveillance, including at the same time as the aircraft is undertaking transport tasks, particularly useful on humanitarian and disaster relief operations and search and rescue missions.”

The aircraft and simulator are being acquired through the United States’ Foreign Military Sales process as part of a package that includes aircrew and maintainer training.

“As with our decision to acquire the P-8A Poseidon fleet through the Foreign Military Sales process, this has reduced costs and allows collaboration with other nations on developments and system upgrades that will be necessary over the life of the aircraft,” Ron Mark said.

“The first of the new Hercules will be delivered in 2024, with the full fleet operating from 2025, allowing for a phased retirement of the current fleet.

“The flight simulator will help us to build and maintain crew skills, and allow more demanding training scenarios to be attempted without risk to personnel, and while preserving flight hours for operational tasks.”

In addition, the Coalition Government has also approved $21 million to upgrade systems in the Air Force NH90 helicopters to comply with regulatory and operational requirements. 

“This investment, building on the first tranche announced last year, will ensure that the New Zealand Defence Force’s aircraft are fitted with updated communication, navigation, air traffic management and identification systems,” Ron Mark said.

“The upgrade of the NH90 will be undertaken in cooperation with a number of other nations who operate these helicopters including Australia, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, and Norway.

“This will provide us with an opportunity to share development costs amongst all participating nations, which means this approach is less expensive and risky than pursuing a bespoke solution.

“Without upgrading these systems the NZDF aircraft may be restricted in operations in both controlled civil and military airspace. Funding for this project will be provided for from NZDF baselines,” Ron Mark said.

Note:

Work is expected to be initiated in 2021 on the second phase of upgrading New Zealand’s air mobility capability, when options will be considered for replacing the two Boeing 757 aircraft operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

These are expected to reach their end of service life towards the end of this decade.