in Defence / Features

Twin giants square up for Herculean task

Posted 8 August 2019 · Add Comment

With most African countries ignoring the more expensive C-130J Hercules, both the Leonardo C-27J and Airbus C295 are now battling it out for tactical airlift supremacy in Africa. Alan Warnes looks at the state of play and the status of the North African air forces.

North Africa is dominated by the Sahara Desert and thousands of miles of uninhabited territory. Add to that the serious threat from terrorists, militias and conflicts scattered across many parts of the region, and you begin to understand why so many air forces have large transport fleets.
The most dominant military tactical airlifter is undoubtedly still the C-130 Hercules, with more than 60 different examples serving countries situated along the Mediterranean’s southern basin.
They serve as a reliable workhorse and spare parts are easily accessible, which is a top requirement for aircraft averaging 40 years old. But Lockheed Martin’s rule looks to be coming to an end, because most countries will not spend around the alleged $150 million or so on the new C-130J.
Only Tunisia has opted for the new generation Hercules; the remainder are happy to keep their old C-130Bs, C-130Es, C-130Hs and L100s airworthy.
The Hercules might be the best-selling tactical airlifter in the world but, in Africa, it’s the cost that counts usually.
European aerospace has moved into the Hercules market, with the Leonardo C-27J and the Airbus C295 on offer.
Powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 turboshaft engines, the C-27J can fly up to 602km/h with a maximum cruise speeds of 583 km/h and a maximum payload of more than 1,000kg.
In July 2015, Alenia Aermacchi (now Leonardo) successfully completed first flight-tests of the C-27J battlefield airlifter configuration aircraft with new winglets. The aircraft benefits from better hot-and-high runway performance, increased payload, range and endurance, to make it more attractive to African operators. The new configuration should be available this year.
Leonardo must be disappointed with the number it has sold in Africa. Morocco operates four, purchased in 2011, while Chad acquired two in 2013 and, more recently, Zambia has bought two and Kenya three. As well as being a strategic and tactical airlifter, the Italian option can serve as a multi-mission aircraft in electronic surveillance, fire-fighting and search-and-rescue operations.
So why has the C-27J flopped slightly in Africa? Probably because it is too expensive. The Ghana Air Force (GAF) looked at both the C-27J and C295, and a senior officer told me after opting for the latter, that the reason was the cost.
The GAF has praised the aircraft’s endurance and range, as well as the ability to operate on unpaved runways. Two C295Ms work closely with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The C295, just like the C-27J, is marketed as a tactical airlifter serving the light and medium lift role. Its two Pratt& Whitney Canada PW127G turboprop engines ensures the aircraft reaches a respectable 576km/h and a cruising speed of 480km/h.
Being 41ft 8ins long, it has the longest unobstructed cabin in its class, albeit not as high as the C-27J, and a maximum payload of 9,700kg. But, unusually, the C295 does not have an auxiliary power unit (APU), which you would think is a pre-requisite when landing in some of the most inhospitable airfields in Africa.
That doesn’t seem to have put the Egyptian Air Force off. With 24, it is the biggest operator of the type. The new C295W version is equipped with winglets and uprated engines to deliver an improved performance.
To date, 35 aircraft have been delivered to African states: Algeria (6 – but lost 1), Egypt (24), Ghana (3), Mali (1) and Ivory Coast (1).
On the sale to the Ivory Coast in March 2018, Bernhard Brenner, Airbus Defence and Space head of marketing & sales, said: “The C295 has proven its outstanding capabilities in the exceptionally harsh sub-Saharan Africa operating environment. The aircraft will be a game-changer for Ivory Coast and we feel very proud to welcome a new operator into our C295 family.”
The Angolan Government announced in March 2018 that it would be acquiring three C295 maritime patrol aircraft to monitor its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The deal, financed by Spain’s Banco Bilbao and Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), is worth €159.9 million ($180.56) and is said to be between Leonardo and commodities trading company Simportex.
The aircraft will house the fully integrated tactical system (FITS), which has proved popular in this role. According to reports in Angola, the aircraft will be operated by the Navy.
AVIC (Aviation Industry in China) has been trying to sell more transport aircraft, like the Xian MA60 and Harbin Y-12, to African air forces. But, despite the strong relationships between China and many African nations, it has not been too successful. There looked to be a future for the Saudi/Ukraine Antonov An-132D in Africa, but that project has now been cancelled.

North African Air force review

Algeria’s 14 C-130 Hercules were delivered in the early 1980s to shuttle cargo and personnel all over the vast state. Unfortunately, the fleet has not fared well and two have been lost in recent years.
On February 11, 2014, a C-130H-30 – serial 7T-WHM – crashed reportedly due to poor weather conditions, claiming the lives of 77 people on board, including the four flight crew. Then a C-130H – 7T-WHT – skidded off the runway at Biskra Airport, 450kms south of Algiers, on June 3, 2018, resulting in the seven crew being injured.
That came two months after Algeria’s worst ever aviation crash on April 11 2018, when an Il-76 – 7T-WIV – crashed on take-off from its Boufarik base killing 257 people. Three days of national mourning followed.
The Algerian Air Force flies 17 of the lumbering Il-76/78 transport jets, with the bulk of the Il-78 air-to-air refuellers acquired from 2002 onwards.
Six Airbus C295Ms were delivered between November 2005 and February 2007 but tragedy struck on November 9, 2012, when one of them crashed into mountains in France, killing all six on board.
The Presidential Transport Squadron at Boufarik has operated two glass-cockpit configured ATR 72-600s since 2015.

Chad operates a mix of transport aircraft from the US (one C-130H-30), Europe (two C-27Js and one ATR 42) and Ukraine (one elderly An 26). It is unclear if the latter, which was seen being overhauled at Metiga in Libya with Maintenance Unit 003 in 2007, is still operational after two brand new C-27Js were delivered by September 2014.
The latter, based at N’Djamena, have enhanced the Chad Air Force’s capabilities, which are used by the United Nations in the region. An ATR 42 is used by the Government’s VIP unit.

In recent years, Djibouti has welcomed investment under the Chinese Government’s belt and road initiative. Consequently, it is not surprising that the air force has taken delivery of a Xian MA 60 and a Harbin Y-12E Turbo Panda, now based at Ambouli International Airport.

Egypt’s air force has the biggest transport fleet in Africa, which is not too surprising given the size of the country and the vastness of the Sinai Desert, where a large scale anti-terrorism operation is ongoing.
It has been operating 24 ageing C-130Hs since 1976 and Lockheed Martin displayed a model of a C-130J in Egyptian Air Force markings at the EDEX show in Cairo in December.
The US giant has been pursuing the Egyptian market for several years and, according to one source, “is closer to sealing a deal than ever before”.
While Lockheed Martin has been pressing for a C-130J deal, Airbus Defence and Space has gone a step further by selling 24 C295s in several batches to Egypt between 2010 and 2016. The C295s are taking some of the workload off of the old Hercules fleet, and utilising its favourable short take-off and landing capabilities compared to the C-130.

One of the oldest transport fleets in north Africa is flown by the Ethiopian Air Force (EAF), with a mix of Ukraine and US assets.
The EAF has operated 16 Antonov An-12s since 1980, most from ex-Soviet air force stocks. All but one are believed to survive.
On August 9, 2013, one of them hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when it crashed at Aden Abdulle IAP in Mogadishu, Somalia. The large Soviet transport aircraft was carrying weapons and ammunition and was destroyed by fire, which claimed the lives of four crew.
In September 2016, the Addis Ababa-based government contracted Lithuanian maintenance specialist, FL Technics, to provide a spares supply for several of the Soviet-era types in the EAF inventory, which included the An-12 medium transport and Antonov An-32 tactical transport aircraft.
An initial batch of spares had already been delivered by the time the contract was formally announced in mid-March 2016, and the remainder of the contract was due to be completed by late spring.
The transport fleet flew troops for peacekeeping efforts in the Sudan and South Sudan War (2013-2018).
The EAF acquired two Hercules, one L100-30 in 2007 and a C-130E in June, 2018. The latter, a former Puerto Rico Air National Guard mount, is used for the tactical airlift of troops and equipment to support Ethiopian participation in African Union and UN peacekeeping operations.

After Colonel Gaddafi fell in 2011, the ensuing civil war saw the Libyan Air Force (LAF) splinter and the bulk of the massive transport fleet has all but gone.
One of the two huge An-124s was seized in Ukraine in 2011 after the military never settled the maintenance bill, while the whereabouts of the other is unclear.
Many An-24s served the LAF back then, but these days the number is around four. Several have been lost in accidents, the most recent being on February 21, 2014, when an aircraft on a medical evacuation flight from Tripoli-Metiga to Tunis-Carthage crashed in Tunisian air space, with the loss of all 11 on board.
Four An-32P Firekillers were acquired in 2005, but they have been destroyed, and the five An-72 Coalers have all been retired or destroyed, along with the largest fleets of Ilyushin Il-76/78s in Africa.
In early 2011, there were about 12 C-130H/L100-30s in the LAF inventory, and several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were keen to get them operational. Portugal’s OGMA was doing the bulk of the work, but today only a handful are still intact.
A Libyan Dawn Air Force C-130H was shot down by a Libyan National Army MiG-21MF on January 3, 2017, while a L100-30, chartered by Akakus Oil, crashed and exploded after take-off from El Shaharara oilfield on April 29, 2018. Three crew members were killed.

In addition to the C295M delivered in December 2016, the Mali Air Force is believed to still be flying a Basler BT-67 alongside two Harbin Y-12E Turbo Pandas acquired in September 2017.

Morocco boasts one of the most modern transport fleets.
Four C-27Js fly alongside seven CN235Ms delivered in 1990. Five Bombardier 415s also double up as fire-fighting assets, while there are 14 surviving C-130Hs. Two are air-to-air refuellers, working with Mirage F1Cs and F-5E/Fs, and another is used for electronic warfare work fitted with a sideways-looking-radar.

Niger has operated two C-130H Hercules, delivered in 1978, but one of them was written off on April 16, 1997.

The only African-owned C-130Js are operated by the Tunisian Air Force (TAF). They were delivered in 2013 and 2014. 
As well as the new generation C-130Js, the TAF also flies four ex-USAF C-130Bs and a C-130H.

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