Taking the Strain in the Middle East

THE RAF’S Hercules fleet is seeing a major surge in the tempo of its operations in the Middle East to support simultaneous British Army combat deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. It comes at a time when almost half the RAF’s C-130K fleet is undergoing urgent modifications.

As a result, the RAF’s C-130J fleet, operated by 24 and 30 Squadrons, is being heavily tasked during the current rotation of army brigades, totalling more than 20,000 troops, into Afghanistan and Iraq. C-130Js are used to shuttle troops to and from Basra so that RAF Tristars and chartered airliners can land at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar in safety. A similar shuttle is operated to Kabul in Afghanistan, and a further five Hercules fly troops into front-line bases in Helmand Province. The Hercules force is also air-dropping supplies to isolated contingents of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and making tactical deliveries of cargo and passengers to improvised forward air strips.

This heavy commitment has required almost every aircrew and ground engineer qualified on the C-130J to be assigned to support operations in the Middle East. Pressure increased earlier in the autumn when all 23 older C-130Ks were pulled back from front-line duty to be modified.

The first two aircraft to be fitted with wing fuel tank explosive suppressant foam systems have been completed by Marshall Aerospace at Cambridge, at a reported unit cost of £600,000.

The UK’s Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) has also released details on outer wing refurbishment required on up to ten C-130Ks. Outer wing fatigue is reported to have increased due to the harshness of the Afghanistan and Iraq missions. Refurbishment is required to enable the aircraft to carry on flying until their planned out-of-service date of 2011-2012.

Senior RAF officers say that maintaining the ‘air bridge’ to .Afghanistan and Iraq for the Army is currently the service’s highest priority. The head of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, told AFM that the air bridge was a «critical pinch point» for the service. Eight C-130K crews are being retrained to fly the J model. Other personnel from the K fleet have also been posted to Al Udeid to help in support jobs.

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