Royal Air Force satisfied with Airbus A400M, confirms C-130 Hercules retirement

Richard Whitcombe/

After reviewing the evacuation of Afghanistan by the Royal Air Force, named Operation Pitting, the British Chief of the Air Staff Michael Wigston said he was satisfied with the performance of the Airbus A400M and thus would not postpone the retirement of the C-130J Hercules, announced in March 2021.

“This is the first large-scale operation that we’ve done with our A400s, and it’s demonstrated that this is an aircraft with real potential and enormous capacity,” Wigston told Defense News. “It will be with a heavy heart that we retire the C-130 in two years’ time because it’s been an absolute workhorse, but I have absolute confidence in the A400 and what that aircraft is able to do going forward.” 

During the latest British defense and security review, the British Ministry of Defence announced that the 14 C-130J Hercules Mk4 currently in the fleet of the RAF, and which were to continue flying until the mid-2030s, would instead be retired by 2023 to make way for the A400M. 

The 22 A400M Atlas ordered by the Royal Air Force, alongside the 8 Boeing C-17A Globemaster III (which were also involved in Operation Pitting) will provide “a more capable and flexible transport fleet,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said at the time.

Airbus has already delivered 20 A400M transport aircraft to the Royal Air Force, according to its latest order book.

In December 2020, the Ejército del Aire, the Spanish Air Force, also bid farewell to its Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft after 47 years of service.

But the C-130 is not going out of fashion in all European air forces. In fact, France and Germany are currently setting up a bi-national squadron to be based in Évreux-Fauville Air Base, northwest of Paris. It will be composed of 4 aircraft of the French Air Force and 6 German planes. Half of the fleet will be the refueling variant of the Hercules, the KC-130J.


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