Since a while I’m spending a lot of time thinking about Polish airlift capabilities.
There were a few articles about this subject and I have shown a few options but it’s time to define the outcome of the conceptual phase and move to a outcome. If I would have something to say about the future of Polish “heavy weight” aircraft I would put my money into Lockheed Martin’s pocket. It’s not that I like this company more than Airbus or Embraer. The thing is that they produce something what might solve many problems here in Poland.
And it’s really difficult to dive into something else than the C-130 family. Especially when you have some experience with maintaining it, the needed infrastructure is already in place and the soldiers like those machines. That’s right. Soldiers like to fly the C-130 as it is a very good work horse and if one could have a choice – switching to a more modern work horse is a no-brainer.
Although buying the classic C-130J (most probably C-130J-30) might be a good choice I think that the MC-130J or alternatively the KC-130J would be a much better solution. Why? The answer is simple. Money. Polish pockets aren’t that deep and a bare bones variant of the Hercules would be wasting our resources. We can not afford to have a fleet with aircraft good for just one job.
Although the helicopter procurement is pushed aside at some point we will need those helicopters and why not have the ability to refuel them? There is always the question why would one need to refuel the helicopters in such a small country as Poland? Well we have a strip of see within our borders so this is a good argument for starters. Refueling would allow Poland much safer over water operations. There is also the special operations realm. Polish spec-ops soldiers are definitively playing in the major league. Having something like MC-130J would beef up the operators capabilities. Here is the tricky part weather we need a MC-130J or just a KC-130J?
At this stage the maths would have to kick in. Poland will probably buy 5 new aircraft to replace the C-130E fleet with a 1:1 ratio. Something smaller would be insane and something bigger at this point looks like a nice dream. This very small number forces us to do a thorough investigation in the whole life cycle of this platform. Would it be much cheaper to have for instance a fleet of 2 MC-130J, 3 C-130J-30 or 2 KC-130J and 3 C-130j-30 rather than an all MC-130/KC-130J fleet?
Deciding to have something more that just a work horse pushes the number of such aircraft to at least two. If the spec- ops guys would be en rout somewhere, a second aircraft would have to be ready if the first would fail. To be honest having three would be ideal, as at some point one has to be inspected/overhauled/checked – you name it.
This would leave us with just two classic C-130J-30. Would this be a good move? Or in this situation maybe an all KC-130J fleet would be cheaper and better in a 40+ year time frame? Hard to tell. We would have to ask the users, have a closer look at the raw data connected with yearly costs and think twice about the possibilities which could be added and evaluate the gains and losses table very closely.
At this point I can’t do it and I hope that someone will take a deep dive into the numbers and pick the best solution. Most importantly the best doesn’t mean the cheapest. The best means the one that will put our forces on a higher level for the best possible price.
As a side note the KC-130J Harvest Hawk can also deliver a nice punch… When you CAN have a hammer why not take it? 😉