Both Polish and Pakistan Air Forces have something in common.
They use old (or very old) transport aircraft, mainly the C-130. Poland has 5 C-130E machines and Pakistan has a mix of B, E and H variants.
As H is relatively young in this mix let’s leave it and focus on the rest. Polish E’s can be compared with the Pakistani aircraft. Of course they also have even older B models but the technology is comparable.
Pakistan has decided to upgrade it’s fleet with modern avionics. The request was published by the DSCA back in 2014 so basically three years ago. Recently Rockwell Collins has published a news item about this modernization. Pakistan has selected the Flight2 avionics system for up to 11 C-130E and 5 C-130B aircraft.
We can read in the press release as follows:
Included in the avionics upgrade is a full glass cockpit with new primary flight displays, Required Navigation Performance Area Navigation flight management system with High Altitude Release Point and Computed Air Release Point precision airdrop software. Additional equipment includes a modern digital autopilot, Very High Frequency, High Frequency, and SATCOM communications, navigation sensors, and safety and surveillance systems including Weather Radar, Traffic Collision Avoidance System, Terrain Awareness and Warning System and digital map. The upgrade will provide the Pakistan Air Force with state-of-the-art capabilities consistent with the world’s leading C-130 operators.
There are a few options already available on the Polish E but if we compare the “Charleen” (nickname of one of the Polish C-130):
with the proposed Rockwell Collins upgrade:
you can see the difference…
But the question is: is it worth it?
Long story short: NO. Poland desperately needs brand new aircraft and refurbishing the already refurbished E wont solve nations problems. The ongoing MRTT contract will solve many issues but you can’t land with a tanker on a grass strip with bumps here and there. The C-295 is a very small machine and it won’t do the Hercs job either.
Cutting out the C-130 completely is also out of the question. This leaves Poland with either using the C-130E as long as it gets or moving to something new like the C-130J (or better the C-130J-30) or for instance with the Spartan. We can skip (for now) the Embraer KC-390 as it is jet powered.
Going for the Spartan would mean buying even more tiny aircraft which Poland ahs acquired already a lot. They are good when you need tot transport something on a short distance but when flying to Africa, Afghanistan or Kuwait size matters.
This leaves us with the C-130J. It has many benefits such as a smoother transition path and smaller logistic footprint as Powidz, the home of 33rd Airlift Base is already ready for them – they also tend to fly for training from Ramstein once a year for bilateral exercises.
One option is not an option
Having just one option is a bad option and this would require Poland to think again about the KC-390. It is bigger than the C-130 and Embraer markets it as rugged landing strips capable.
But… here comes the most important factor in all military acquisitions. Buying aircraft means 40+ years of alliance. Yes alliance, because when you can not produce something you depend on the relationship with the producer.
The technical capabilities should not be the leading indicator of a good buy. They should be top notch, and that is out of the question, but if you have two nearly equal machines it is wiser to pick the one which offers better added benefits like better positioning in the geopolitical bigger picture.
Now this is the biggest problem. There isn’t much news about new acquisitions of C-130 like aircraft for Poland. It seems like other programs got bigger priorities and this is understandable. One can just hope that the mid size transport aircraft wont be forgotten totally.
The pilots and crews are waiting for new equipment. This is for sure.