By Rod Mcguirk
CANBERRA: Australia said Monday it will buy 20 new C-130 Hercules from the United States in a 9.8 billion Australian dollar ($6.6 billion) deal that will increase by two-thirds the size of the Australian air force’s fleet of its second-largest heavy transport aircraft.
The announcement follows the U.S. Congress’ approval last year of a larger sale of 24 of the Lockheed Martin-manufactured propellor-driven aircraft.
The United States and Australia are currently conducting their biennial Talisman Sabre military exercise along the Australian coast that this year involves 13 nations and more than 30,000 personnel as global concerns intensify over an increasingly assertive China.
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The first of the new four-engine Hercules is expected to be delivered in 2027 and the new aircraft will eventually replace the fleet of 12 Hercules currently operated by the Royal Australian Air Force from RAAF Base Richmond near Sydney, Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy said.
The purchase “will almost double the fleet and represents a massive uplift in capability, in mobility and transport for the Royal Australian Air Force,” Conroy told reporters.
“Almost doubling the fleet gives us more capacity to deploy them on multiple operations at the same time, and that’s the critical driver,” Conroy added. The Australian air force also operates eight of the larger Boeing C-17A Globemaster heavy transport jet aircraft.
The deal was confirmed ahead of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with their Australian counterparts for annual talks late this week in the Australian city of Brisbane.
It is Blinken’s third trip to Asia in less than two months, highlighting U.S. efforts to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
A closer bilateral military relationship with Australia was underscored Saturday when the USS Canberra was commissioned in Sydney. The Independence-variant littoral combat ship, built by Australian manufacturer Austal, became the first U.S. warship to be commissioned in a foreign port.
The original Canberra was a U.S. cruiser launched in 1943 and named after the Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra, which was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 with a loss of 193 lives while supporting U.S. Marines landings in the Solomon Islands. The Australian warship was named for Australia’s capital.
The Solomons are again a security concern for the United States and its allies over recent security agreements that the South Pacific nation signed with China.
Conroy, who is also Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, flew to the Solomons later Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of the arrival in the capital, Honiara, of an Australian-led force of Pacific Islands troops and police.
The Regional Assurance Mission to Solomon Islands was invited by the Solomons government to end years of civil unrest. The force left in 2017, but Australian police and military personnel returned in late 2021 at Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s request to quell anti-government and anti-China rioting. Australian peacekeepers remain in Honiara.