Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

The Air Force's fleet of five Hercules C-130 planes have been New Zealand's tactical airlift aircraft since 1965 - that's more than half a century.

When these planes were delivered brand new, Keith Holyoake was prime minister, the Vietnam War was waging, Auckland Airport hadn't yet opened, men hadn't yet landed on the moon, and daily steam train services were operating between Auckland and Wellington.

Long story short: they're old.

Last month's Defence Force white paper concluded the Hercs need to be replaced, as part of a $20b 15-year plan to upgrade and modernise New Zealand's military.

There's still a few more years left in the Hercs, but they'll need to be retired sometime between 2020 and 2022. That sounds like a long way away, but in defence, and aviation generally, procurement needs to be planned in advance.

So, what are the options? Which aircraft are being eyed up by the top brass? Here's a few that are on the list.

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

This is a revamped version of the current Herc. It has new flight deck avionics, new engines, needs fewer crew to fly, and has a slightly higher maximum takeoff weight. Its capacity requirements for passengers, or troops, or cargo are similar to the old version. Cost: NZ$130-160m

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

The first ever fixed-wing military aircraft from Airbus. It was designed to replace the ageing global Hercules fleet, while providing more capacity and capability. Its payload is four times that of the Hercules, and has a maximum takeoff weight that's 70 tonnes heavier. Importantly, it has the space to transport the Air Force NH90 helicopters, which can't fit in the Herc. Germany, France, the UK, Turkey, Spain, and Malaysia operate the A400M, but both Germany and Spain ordered too many and will try to on-sell them. There's also problems with the engines, the blades, and a computer glitch saw one of them crash last year just before a planned delivery to Turkey's Air Force, killing four people. Cost: NZ$230m

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

A huge step up from the incumbent, and would be a move away from turbo-props and towards jet engines. It's 2.5 times heavier at its maximum takeoff weight, and can take a lot more cargo, troops or other military vehicles. It also has the capacity to transport the NH90 helicopter. One problem: Boeing doesn't make these any more, which means they'd have to be purchased secondhand. Who operates this plane? United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India, and United Arab Emirates. Cost: NZ$300m brand new.

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

Brazilian aerospace company Embraer is relatively unknown, but it's the third largest aircraft builder in the world behind Airbus and Boeing. The KC-390 is its first foray into military planes and is still in the testing phase. One of the prototypes has just made an appearance at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK. It has a very similar capacity as the Herc, carrying a similar number of passengers, pallets, and humvees. It has two jet engines, unlike the four props the Herc has, meaning it's a lot faster and has a bigger range. Cost: NZ$116m

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

Yep, this is the same company that makes motorbikes and jetskis. The C-2 is made in Japan, and exists mainly because the Japanese Defence Military couldn't find the perfect transport plane to replace its own ageing Hercs. It has similar capacity to the A400M but is equipped with two jet engines rather than four turbo props. It's essentially a mini C-17 Globemaster. There are only two in operation, but production is ramping up, with more than 40 units planned over the coming years. Cost: NZ$187m

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

An unlikely option. This is China's answer to the Herc, and its only operator is China's Air Force. It's slightly longer and heavier than the Herc, and it can accommodate more passengers, cargo, and troops. More specific details of this aircraft aren't available as China's military is the only operator. Cost: unknown.

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

With a name like Spartan, you'd expect this Italian-made plane to be like a flying Hulk, but it's actually smaller than the RNZAF's ageing Herc. It can take a heavier payload though, but fewer passengers and troops. It's used by the United States, Australia, Greece, Italy, and Peru. Cost: NZ$73m

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

Designed in Soviet Russia, this plane has had a rough life. Construction began in the mid-90s but then stalled not long after. The first prototype crashed on its fourth flight, killing all seven test crew. It was downhill from there, the second test plane crashed too during cold weather testing. Production ceased for more than a decade, until the Russian government pumped a whole lot of cash into the programme. It has similar capacity to the A400M, but still requires four flight crew (two pilots, a navigator, and an engineer). The most bizarre thing about this plane is its propeller blades - each of the four engines have two sets of six-bladed propellers. It's a good plane on paper, but let's face it, New Zealand would never buy a Russian-built plane. Cost: NZ$106m

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

This is a Ukrainian-built plane with similar capabilities to Italy's Spartan. It's still in production and hasn't yet entered service. The only country to order this model is Saudi Arabia. It can carry around 100 people, or 80 paratroopers, and is suitable for unpaved runways. Cost: NZ$106m

Opinion: What will replace the Herc?

 

This proposed aircraft began as a partnership between India and Russia, but earlier this year, the Indians pulled out and Russia's decided to go at it alone. At the estimated cost of NZ$60m, it's a steal. It won't be able to carry the same weight as the ageing Hercs, but only by a whisker. On the speed front though, it will travel much faster. Cost: NZ$60m.

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