While Israel has taken possession, in the United States, of the first of nine C-130J-30 aircraft, there is still much work to be done before these “commando transports” are ready for action. While intended mainly for air freight or carrying paratroopers and other military personnel, the Israeli C-130Js are being modified to handle commando operations as well.
The first of these C-130Js was ordered in 2010, two more in 2011, and three more in the last two years. Each order has included additional modifications. Most of the work is being done in the United States, but a lot of it, involving Israeli made equipment, won’t be done until the C-130Js arrive in Israel. The first C-130J won’t arrive in Israel until early 2014. That aircraft was turned over to Israel in the U.S. in September and work continues on the aircraft, under Israeli supervision in the United States until the aircraft is ready to fly to Israel.
From the beginning Israel planned to modify all these C-130Js for special operations (commando) missions. The C-130Js enable Israel to carry out commando raids in distant countries, like Sudan and Iran. This meant the aircraft had to be equipped with night vision gear, more radios, radar warning equipment, and counter-measures for anti-aircraft missiles. India and the U.S. are also buying this special operations model but each country equips their C-130Js to fit their own needs. The first three Israeli C-130Js are to be delivered by 2014, while the second three will arrive by 2016. The last three have not been officially ordered yet. Each of the C-130Js cost about $200 million. Israel realized they could not afford all of them right now. So they are being ordered as quickly as the budget allows.
Israel has been using the C-130 since 1971, and most of its current 22 C-130s are older models in need of replacement. C-130s can last a long time as the Israelis discovered, but over the last two decades budget problems forced Israel to delay ordering replacements. This was not a catastrophe. The oldest known C-130 served 47 years and spent over 32,000 hours in the air. On average, C-130s last about 25 years and about 20,000 hours in the air.
The C-130 has been in service since 1957. So far, over 2,300 have been built and it is still in production. That is unprecedented. Several other military aircraft remained in service over half a century (the British Canberra , B-52, the Russian Tu-95, AN-2, and the U.S. DC-3). But no other aircraft has remained in production for so long. The C-130 is used by more than 50 countries.
Originally, the C-130 was designed to carry 15 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, a range of over 12,000 kilometers, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130J-30 is the stretched version that is about five meters (fifteen feet) longer and carries about five percent more weight of cargo. Israel calls its version of the C-130J the “Samson”.