The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of three C-130J transport aircraft and three KC-130J tanker aircraft to Germany. The expected value of the contract is $1.4 billion.
Germany will use these aircraft in a combined French-German transport squadron based in Évreux, Normandy. The squadron will consist of four French C-130J and the six German aircraft. This gives both countries flexible and reliable transport and in-flight refueling capabilities. In addition to the airplanes, the cooperation also includes shared logistics, infrastructure, maintenance, support, and training.
The German and French interest in the C-130 platform caused attention when it was first voiced in 2015. Both countries are heavily invested in the development of the Airbus A400M transport aircraft, and it was unexpected that they would also invest in the smaller American competitor.
However, the A400M is delayed, and the retirement of the countries’ old Transall C-160 transport aircraft is well overdue. Germany is retiring C-160 in 2021, and France does the same in 2023. This could potentially leave a capacity gap as the A400M is not ready to take over all their tasks yet.1
Germany has so far received 18 of the 53 A400M that the country has ordered, and France has received 14 of its 50 aircraft. This is well behind schedule, and the performance of the aircraft has disappointed. For example it is still not possible to perform in-flight refueling from the A400M, and the plane does not meet the requirements for dropping parachute troops. So the combined French-German fleet of C-130J and KC-130J will fill a gap after the Transall C-160 leaves service.
It is worth noticing that the American C-130J and the Airbus A400M are two very different types of aircraft with partially complementary strengths. The C-130J is much smaller and capable of using a stretch of dirt road as a runway. So the C-130J will also be useful alongside the A400M for missions that the larger aircraft cannot solve.