The Royal Australian Air Force has taken delivery of its first C-130J Hercules to undergo an upgrade to the Block 8.1 standard.
The modernized airframe arrived home at RAAF Base Richmond in December 2021, the Australian defense department revealed.
As explained, the first of Australia’s 12 Hercules airlifters was upgraded in the USA by Lockheed Martin with support from the US Air Force, which flew its first Block 8.1 Hercules in 2017.
Airbus Australia Pacific will be responsible for modifying the remaining 11 aircraft in Australia.
The transition from C-130J Block 6.1 to Block 8.1 incorporates new hardware and software including safety improvements to the aircraft for aviators, including changes to the aircraft’s navigation systems, which will ensure greater accuracy during landing approaches, the defense ministry explained.
Group Captain James Badgery, Officer Commanding the Air Lift Systems Program Office, said the upgrade would prove essential in future Hercules missions.
“Block 8.1 will make it easier for crews to operate the Hercules in a range of complicated environments, from civilian airspace around airports through to airfields on the frontline,” Group Captain Badgery said.
“Hercules’ crews have often been first on the scene during times of crisis, evidenced by the support delivered during the Kabul Airlift in August, and Block 8.1 will ensure the fleet can continue flying these operations safely.”
“Airbus Australia Pacific has already commenced the first local upgrade of an aircraft to Block 8.1 standard at Richmond, and the remaining fleet will be modified as they become due for major scheduled servicing.”
According to the US Air Force, Block 8.1 enhances GPS capabilities, communications systems, updated friend-or-foe identification and allows the C-130J to comply with worldwide air traffic management regulations. Additionally, the upgrade program standardizes aviation systems to improve interoperability.
Lockheed adds that the upgrade introduces enhanced inter-communication systems, diagnostics, and additional covert lighting.
RAAF operates the 12-strong C-130J medium-sized tactical airlifter fleet from RAAF Base Richmond. The Hercules can deliver cargo to airfields with short unsurfaced runways, and airdrop cargo and paratroops by parachute. The C-130J Hercules can carry up to 128 passengers, or eight pallets of cargo.