British Royal Air Force (RAF) C-130J tactical transport aircraft had less availability than theirs C-17 and A400M peers for 14 of the last 19 months from March 1, 2021 to September 1, 2022, including five months when fleet availability fell below 60%.
Availability peaked at 71% in five separate months during the reporting period, with eight to ten aircraft available for operations. In comparison, the A400M strategic transport, which is designed to perform many of the roles and functions performed by the C-130J when the last type retires in 2023achieved rates of 65%-70% with 13 or 14 aircraft available at any given time.
Meanwhile, the C-17, the largest strategic transport aircraft in the RAF fleet, saw figures of 75%-88% with six or seven platforms available each month of the reporting period. The information came to light following a written response from the UK Parliament on November 14 outlining air mobility accessibility metrics.
The UK has a fleet of eight C-17 aircraft manufactured by US defense company Boeing, in addition to 21 A400M platforms purchased from European aerospace giant Airbus. Considered more tactical than strategic, the fleet of 14 C-130Js is due to retire in 2023 without a direct replacement.
In October, the C-130J fleet was added to the list of military equipment to be put up for sale through the Defense Equipment Sales Administration (DESA) beginning in 2023, in line with the expected end-of-service date.
The UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) had no comment at the time of publication Air Force regarding the level of availability of the C-130J and A400M.
|Aircraft in the fleet are available||Quantity in % of the fleet||Aircraft in the fleet are available||Quantity in % of the fleet||Aircraft in the fleet are available||Quantity in % of the fleet|
|March 1, 2021||7||88||9||60||14||70|
|April 1, 2021||7||88||9||60||13||65|
|May 1, 2021||6||75||8||53||14||70|
|June 1, 2021||6||75||8||53||13||65|
|July 1, 2021||7||88||9||60||13||65|
|August 1, 2021||7||9||60||13||65|
|September 1, 2021||7||88||10||71||14||70|
|October 1, 2021||7||10||71||14||70|
|November 1, 2021||7||88||9||64||14||70|
|December 1, 2021||7||88||8||57||13||65|
|January 1, 2022||7||88||8||57||14||70|
|February 1, 2022||7||88||8||57||14||70|
|March 1, 2022||7||88||10||71||14||70|
|April 1, 2022||7||88||9||64||13||65|
|May 1, 2022||6||75||10||71||13||65|
|June 1, 2022||6||75||10||71||14||70|
|July 1, 2022||6||75||9||64||13||65|
|August 1, 2022||7||88||9||64||14||70|
|September 1, 2022||7||88||9||64||14||70|
The A400M leads the way
With the C-130J fleet due to start in the coming months, the A400M – of which 22 have been ordered from manufacturer Airbus – will take on some of the roles previously performed by the outgoing aircraft, not least of which will be the special insertion forces.
However, it is unclear whether the A400M will be cleared for the full range of these roles by the time the C-130J leaves service, creating the potential for another capability gap in the UK armed forces. One of the key areas is the introduction of a parachute, with the A400M yet to be fully cleared for symmetrical port and starboard performance. The UK MoD also has its own authorization protocols for capabilities added to aircraft types.
During the British Defense Committee hearing on November 29a senior Airbus UK official said British troops parachuting from the rear platform “have been cleared”, as has the single static line method.
Regarding the availability of the A400M, Sir Kevin Leeson, director of military affairs at Airbus UK, said there had been some “difficulties” over the summer but now the platform was “completely up and running”.
Problems with the A400M’s gearbox and other engine components resulted in significantly lower platform availability figures than originally anticipated. To remedy this, in UK service Airbus is working to introduce ‘Mod Pack 2’ to the fleet, with all aircraft designated as ‘first line’ now being modified, according to Leeson.
It is not clear what the range availability figures are between UK A400Ms fitted with Mod Pack 2 and those “non-first line” platforms still awaiting such patch work, as well as the timescale required to upgrade the original aircraft.
UK Ministry of Defense Equipment Plan 2022-2032. was released on November 29, confirmed the assumption that the withdrawal of the C-130J would free up resources to purchase additional A400 aircraft. However, according to the State Control report on the equipment plan published on the same day, the option of purchasing additional A400M aircraft was assessed as “unattainable”.
https://www.airforce-technology.com/features/uk-a400m-has-higher-availability-rates-than-departing-c-130j/ The UK A400M has a higher level of availability than the outgoing C-130J