The Argentine Air Force C-130H fleet is completing its major upgrade with L-3’s Flight II+ avionics suite. While this performance improvement will bring an experienced AAF to the 21st century standard, a replacement although not that urgently is still pending, the aircraft are not getting any younger.
While logic dictates that the reliability and success of the C-130 would tend to look for the most current version of the aircraft, bilateral relations with Brazil and current industrial agreements between the Fabrica Argentina de Aviones (FAdeA) and EMBRAER for components production of the KC-390 would represent a commitment for regional development. Another option most certainly would be the A-400M Atlas, but higher costs of acquisition, operation and restrictions considering the use of UK’s armed forces and the concurring consequences of pending sovereignty talks between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Malvinas islands and other islands of the South Atlantic would make the AAF susceptible to any possible mishaps.
So, this would take two frontrunners to the task, but, which one?
The KC-390 has been developed by EMBRAER by request of the Brazilian Air Force to replace its C-130 and KC-130 Hercules with an indigenous aircraft. With day/night cargo, firefighting, paratrooper drop and refueling capabilities found its first export customer in July 2019 as Portugal submitted a quote for 5 aircraft for over 800 million euros. Portugal’s OGMA (with EMBRAER as a major shareholder) along with Aero Ltd and FAdeA are some of its main components’ manufacturers. The main difference on this aircraft is the twin jet engine configuration instead of C-130’s and A-400M’s standard four turboprops. By considering any bilateral relations, Argentina and Brazil would benefit much from this agreement both from an economic, industrial and political manner, even better considering the legislation done by the 27.437 bill’s requirement for Transfer of Technology and/or Commercial Offsets.
As in its drawbacks, the AAF’s concerns are the “teething” stage (as any new aircraft), the jet vs turboprop dilemma and the lack of other export customers since it is understood that what’s needed is a proven aircraft with a large support base and already mature. With main consideration on Antarctic operations, where Argentina holds a large and century old deployment.
This would also affect the fact that as the L-100-30 operated by the AAF, they would not be able to select the larger C-130J-30 due to the same limitations. The C-130J, with a proven 60-year-old design and a 20-year-old very mature variant, would definitely suffice what’s needed and with lesser adaptations needed in existing tooling for the KC/C-130H’s. An ideal configuration would match what’s been required by the German Luftwaffe to jointly operate with the French Air Force. Argentina and U.S. relations would be most benefited from that and there are very limited probabilities that any embargo or protest could prevent the aircraft to be delivered in the same configuration as the U.S. Air Force does at a very cost-effective price tag and the same benefits to the bill 27.437.
Let's not forget..also an Boeing vs Lockheed Martin competition!
In broad strokes, there’s a decision to be taken and a multimillion compromise for 30 years that will require statesmanship from the argentine government, not an easy task but indeed to take advantage from.