By John Hofhemier
While three members of the Arkansas congressional delegation questioned the Air Force's plan to close down and replace the C-130 avionics modernization program when they met last week with Air Force brass, who are moving ahead, meeting next week with contractors interested in developing and supplying a cheaper, less ambitious upgrade.
Requests for information with a list of specifications were posted on the federal business opportunities website in early March. Contractors will meet one on one with Air Force officials next week at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at Fairborn, Ohio.
The Air Force has asked for proposals in its efforts to find a less-expensive, off-the-shelf communication, navigation and air traffic management upgrade for the older C-130s instead of the avionics modernization program it had originally committed to. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and John Boozman, (R-Ark.) want evidence that the idea is a good one.
The three met with Maj. Gen. Robert C. Kane, director of Global Reach Programs for the assistant Secretary of the Air Force. Kane is responsible to the Air Force acquisition executive for airlift, air refueling, training and special operations programs.
"I would say that we learned some new information but are still pursuing additional information they have but haven't yet provided, Griffin said.
Pryor said, "This meeting was another attempt to get answers on the substance behind the Air Force's decision to terminate the C-130 AMP. According to the Air Force, this decision was strictly an affordability issue. I expressed frustration with the Air Force's reluctance to provide documentation detailing its analysis that led to the proposal. Again, I pressed the Air Force for this information and emphasized that fully understanding these numbers is vital as Congress continues with the appropriations process. Our conversation about this matter is not over."
Despite the Air Force's original plans to install AMP kits on another 221 C-130s at a cost of about $4.1 billion, the Defense Department's proposed 2013 budget closes out the C-130 AMP conversion policy with the installation of a fifth and final AMP kit, according to Jennifer Cassidy, a Pentagon Air Force public affairs officer.
Meanwhile, that proposed budget provides $647 million towards the alternative, a communications, navigation, surveillance air traffic management program.
"The primary intent of this (request for information) is to solicit industry feedback on the viability of the planned Optimize Legacy C-130 Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management Program," according to the posted request for information.
"The Optimize Legacy C-130 CNS/ATM Program will address the warfighter need for global airspace access for the Air Force C-130H aircraft fleet by complying with CNS/ATM requirements. This objective is planned to be achieved through an avionics upgrade of an estimated 184 C-130H combat delivery fleet aircraft...by replacing and/or adding equipment necessary to meet the mandated Air Force Navigation/Safety modifications and CNS/ATM requirements," it read. "This modification will allow for more efficient operations in national and international controlled airspace for the foreseeable future."
Contract award is expected in 2014 with low-rate production beginning in 2016. All 184 aircraft would be completed by 2023, according to the RFI.
The proposed 2013 budget contains $76.5 million in research and development funding and $570.5 million in procurement funding, Cassidy said.
Originally, the plan was to install the AMP kit on another 221 legacy C-130s.
"We're waiting on actual cost comparison, comparing AMP upgrades to some of the alternatives being discussed," Griffin said. "(We) want to see numbers for ourselves. The delegation is all on the same page. I don't know of any daylight on this issue between us," he said. "We need to get all the information.
"We want to know what were the numbers they looked at to compare AMP with potential replacements and what were the assumptions. We need to get down in the details."
Griffin said there was more than one alternative, especially since the capabilities, specifications and costs of those off-the-shelf products had evolved over the years.
Among the requirements are updated night-flying capability and the ability to meet the minimum updated standards being implemented by the Federal Aviation Agency here and new standards in Europe. Otherwise, the older C-130s could be excluded from direct, fuel and time efficient air lanes.
The four C-130s in which the AMP kits that were installed and completed are grounded on the tarmac at Little Rock Air Force Base, where they had been sent for real-world testing. Those kits replaced the analog instruments and communications gear with digital equivalents, heads-up, see-through displays and only required a crew of four.
The newer model C-130J, of which there are 27 at the base, require a three-man crew. According to Griffin, the systems to replace the AMP will require the five-man crew.