Air Transportation: C-130J Makes Good

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August 9, 2007: The new American C-130J transport is proving to be more than just another model in the fifty year old C-130 design. Mainly because it's cheaper and easier to use. Like most new commercial transports, the C-130 emphasizes saving money. The new engines generate 29 percent more thrust while using 15 percent less fuel. Increased automation reduced crew size from four to three. The C-130J is more reliable and easier to maintain. And this isn't all predictions. So far, C-130Js have accumulated 355,000 flight hours, and they have cost nearly twenty percent less per hour than previous models.

The most common version of the C-130 still in service is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C-130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. A stretched version of the C-130J can carry more bulky cargo, and goes for $95 million each. The C-130J has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 has been in service for over half a century, and has been in service of over 50 countries.

The Lockheed Martin Corporation (LockMart), and its C-130 aircraft program, have a long history of exploiting political connections and the defense budget. For decades, key members of Congress, from states where the C-130 is manufactured, have forced the U.S. Air Force to buy C-130 aircraft they didn't want or need. The air force has ended up with 500 C-130s, and has retired many that were still fit for duty.

LockMart was doing what most defense contractors did, but just did it much better. Since any defense spending means jobs for some voters, the members of Congress representing those voters will take notice if the jobs go away. This has become an essential part of American politics, especially since World War II. Basically, if you are running for reelection, and your district has lost jobs because of a decline in defense spending, your opponent will be all over you for not "delivering the bacon." It's not for nothing that unneeded government spending is called "pork."

LockMart established a particularly profitable relationship with the senators and representatives from states where the C-130, and its components were built. The politicians leaned on the air force to order more C-130s, and called in political favors to get the votes for more money to buy the unneeded C-130s.

LockMart used a billion dollars of its own money to develop a new version of the C-130 (the C-130J), which ended up costing nearly twice as much as the previous C-130H. The C-130J was better than the C-130H, and cheaper to operate, but the air force would have preferred to have upgraded the older C-130s, like it did for all its other aircraft. But LockMart would not have made as much money.

The price of the C-130J has fluctuated. When it went into production, it was pegged at about $67 million (compared to $38 for the C-130H). That went up to $81 million in 2003, because the politicians were unable to get enough ordered. That was remedied in the last few years, and if those new orders hold, the price will get below $70 million. Meanwhile, LockMart is offering a stretch version of the C-130J, for about $95 million.

The cost of upgrading older C-130s was lower than buying a new C-130J. But many air forces would rather have new transports, than older ones that are prone to a growing (and often unpredictable) list of problems.

 


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