OEMs Eye Gulf States’ Airlift Capacity Modernization

Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules

Qatar is one of several regional customers of the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, but other nations—including Saudi Arabia—are reliant on aging models of the venerable airlifter that need urgent replacement.

Credit: Tony Osborne/AW&ST

While buys of combat aircraft from the Gulf states generally attract the most attention, potential purchases of airlift platforms may also be edging higher up on the priority lists of Gulf Cooperation Council member countries.

Regional players including Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have access to heavy-lift Boeing C-17 Globemasters, but council countries’ tactical transport fleets are generally aging.

Although Saudi Arabia has the largest airlift fleet in the region in terms of numbers, it lacks an organic heavy-lift capability and is dependent on aging fleets of the H-model Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The UAE has a small fleet of well-aged C-130Hs and L-100s to supplement its C-17s.

In contrast, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar have modernized their airlift capabilities, acquiring the C-130J for tactical transport duties. Bahrain is buying secondhand airframes from the UK, while Kuwait has purchased new-build Lockheed Martin KC-130Js to operate alongside its C-17s.

Riyadh has made several attempts to modernize its airlift fleet. In 2012, Washington approved the purchase of 25 C-130Js and KC-130Js, but Saudi Arabia only ordered two KC-130Js. Attempts to buy the Airbus A400M airlifter have been thwarted by Germany’s ongoing embargo restricting defense equipment deliveries—Germany is a key partner nation and supplier for the A400M. German lawmakers have also held up a potential sale of about six A400Ms to the UAE.

Other OEMs are eyeing the same regional opportunities. At last year’s Farnborough Airshow, Embraer announced it had teamed with BAE Systems to help market the C-390 Millennium airlifter to select markets in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, where BAE has significant influence. Embraer had demonstrated the C-390’s capabilities in the region several years ago. Japan has also marketed its Kawasaki C-2 airlifter in the Gulf area and even developed a rough-field capability for the aircraft. And in January, the UAE signed a memorandum of understanding with Korea Aerospace Industries to support the development of the OEM’s proposed MC-X twin-jet airlifter program.

This year’s Dubai Airshow may once again be a marketplace for these airlifters. Participation has been confirmed for both the A400M and C-390, with more types likely to follow.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.

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