23 April 2010

New Zealand C-130 Upgrade in Jeopardy

23 April 2010

RNZAF's C-130 Hercules (photo : chris)

WELLINGTON - Doubts about completing the life extension project (LEP) for the Royal New Zealand Air Force's five C-130H Hercules have arisen with subcontractor Safe Air saying it no longer wishes to do the work.

The Blenheim-based company was scheduled to conduct the LEP on three Hercules after the first two had been modified by L-3 in Texas, but software problems have delayed the project by two years, leading to 92 job losses being announced by Safe Air, a subsidiary of Air New Zealand.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp told Radio New Zealand on April 21 that the government was considering taking a stake in Safe Air to ensure the Hercules work is completed. However, this would effectively make the New Zealand government a subcontractor to L-3.

Mapp later stressed that the focus was on completing the 226 million New Zealand dollar ($160.7 million) Hercules project.

Des Ashton, deputy secretary of defense (acquisitions), told Defense News that a number of options were being looked at. "One of those includes the process that the minister referred to earlier," he said.

"It is desirable that the work is done in Blenheim on those three aircraft; a lot of preparatory work has been done, both to facilities and the people and the kits are all physically down there. So the best outcome would be for the work to be done at Safe Air's facility," Ashton said.

The kit includes fasteners, wiring looms, wire for the looms not yet made, jigs, fixtures, tools, drawings, planning information and other prerequisites.

"There is a [C-130H] Hercules at Safe Air at the moment. It is one of the two aircraft already modified [by L-3] and it is having some calendar-based servicing and the self-protection system installed," he said.

The latter is not part of the life extension project but is being carried out on all five Hercules at the same time as the LEP.

"Once the current work is complete on this aircraft at Blenheim, the latest version of the flight management system and autopilot software will be loaded. At this stage, the intention is to load that [software] first on the aircraft that is over in Waco, Texas, and once it is proven it can go straight into the Hercules at Blenheim as well," Ashton said.

Safe Air is already a subcontractor on the 352 million New Zealand dollar project to upgrade the Air Force's six P-3K Orions to P-3K2 status. The first production aircraft has been with Safe Air since last August. Ashton said the prototype Orion, also in Texas, has not yet completed acceptance tests.

"L-3 continues to work on the P-3, but we have to wait until the flight testing program at Greenville, Texas, substantiates such details as the exact position of antennas and similar details before completing the final installation on the second aircraft. In short, the P-3 work is going ahead as originally advertised, though later than originally intended."

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