Tuesday, March 06, 2012

TOP STORY >> Older C-130s could still get new avionics

Leader senior staff writer

Four crews certified on the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program at Little Rock Air Force Base are maintaining three orphaned aircraft while the Air Force decides how to move forward modernizing its older C-130 aircraft.

About one-third of the 80 C-130s stationed at the base are state-of-the-art C-130Js. Of those, 16 are with the operational 19th Airlift Wing, 10 assigned to the 314th Airlift Wing schoolhouse, according to spokesman Arlo Taylor.

The Air Force had been planing to upgrade as many as 221 older C-130s.

To reduce its budget, the Air Force has backed away from the ambitious and expensive AMP upgrade and is expected to opt instead for the less expensive communications, navigation and surveillance air traffic management system.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said recently the Air Force could save about $4 billion by switching from the AMP, and by reducing the number of conversions from 221 to 184.

The latest program can be installed for about $2.5 billion.

Schwartz told Aviation Week that over time, the mid-size transport planes would nearly all be state-of-the-art C-130J aircraft, and the planned AMP conversions were too expensive.

Regardless of the final configuration, the base is expected to continue in its role as the C-130 schoolhouse.

The older planes aren’t compliant with more demanding standards required by the Federal Aviation Agency by 2015 and throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world no later than 2017.

It’s a matter of safety as well as efficiency, especially in Europe where air corridors are crowded. Without meeting the new standards, the older planes will have to fly around civilian air space.

A fifth and perhaps final AMP kit is being installed at Warner Robbins Air Force Base.

“I do not know the direction the Air Force is trying to go,” Boeing spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan said.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) is co-founder of the C-130 AMP caucus in Congress. He said he’s hoping the AMP will be reinstated and noted that the C-130 AMP requires four crewmen, one fewer than will likely be required to operate an older C-130 with CNS/ATM upgrades.

The Air Force says about 180 of the older planes could be converted to the CNS/AMT system.

To some extent, the CNS/ATM upgrades have been installed in some C-17 and the military is reportedly pushing to make its KC-135 and KC-10 tanker fleets fully compliant with the standards.

Even with cuts in air mobility, Schwartz says the Air Force will have 275 large transport planes and 318 smaller transports. They will be able to fly about 30.5 million ton-miles a day, slightly more than the current estimate of need.

The Air Force is cutting its air mobility capacity, but will still have all the transport it needs, Schwartz said.