Franco-German Air Transport Squadron Set To Welcome Its First German KC130J Super Hercules

The German Air Force announced that the Franco-German Air Transport squadron, stationed at Evreux Air Base in Normandy, is set to welcome its first German KC130J aircraft.

The announcement,  shared via X (formerly Twitter) on February 13, said that this new tanker version will bring the squadron’s mixed fleet to eight aircraft. 

The official handle of Germany at NATO highlighted that the squadron is expected to be composed of ten Lockheed Martin Super Hercules aircraft. Thus, the announcement represents a significant milestone for the binational squadron as it reaches its full strength. 

The Franco-German Joint Tactical Airlift Squadron took its first steps in September 2021, marking a significant milestone in military cooperation between France and Germany.

The squadron commenced operations with two Lockheed C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical transporters and two KC-130J tankers under the purview of the French Air and Space Force’s Transport Squadron 2/61 Franche-Comté (ET02.061), based at Orléans Air Base.

France’s contribution to the squadron includes two C-130J-30 and two KC-130J aircraft, while Germany provides three C-130J-30 and three KC-130J aircraft, making ten aircraft for the squadron.

The German Air Force procured six C-130J aircraft in 2019, with half designated as KC-130J refuelers and the other half in the C-130J-30s variant. Presently, almost four aircraft, including one KC-130J, have been delivered. 

Germany is anticipated to receive the remaining two KC-130J aircraft by the end of 2024, eventually expanding the current fleet to 10 aircraft. 

The original plan aimed to complete all deliveries by 2023, but due to the global impact of COVID-19, this timeline was disrupted. 

Nonetheless, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, previous aircraft were handed over between six and ten months earlier than scheduled, highlighting the efficiency of the production and delivery process.

In contrast, France ordered four aircraft in 2015, all successfully delivered between January 2018 and February 2020. The joint air transport squadron will attain full operating capability by 2024–25. 

Franco-German Transport Squadron

Work on the binational squadron began even before 2021. France and Germany first signed the initial intergovernmental accord on the subject in 2017, focusing on financial aspects related to infrastructure and the joint training center.

In September 2021, the then-German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and her French counterpart, Florence Parly, officially established the squadron by signing the second intergovernmental agreement on Franco-German tactical air transport cooperation.

This partnership stands out for its full integration, marking the first instance where French and German pilots, mechanics, avionics technicians, and loadmasters live, train, and work together. 

Binational crews operate missions, and on the ground, German and French aircraft maintenance is also conducted jointly. The squadron is also a significant milestone for future collaboration between the Luftwaffe and the Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace, with both sides benefiting from each other’s expertise.

The German-French Air Transport Squadron specializes in conducting tactical air transport missions at airfields or unpaved landing zones with minimal infrastructure. 

The first C-130J-30 for Germany heads to the paint shop at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta facility in Georgia on July 22, 2021. Luftwaffe

This capability addresses the tactical air transport gap identified in a 2016 study report, which analyzed the impacts of decommissioning the C-160 Transall in 2021.

However, the Super Hercules isn’t a direct successor to the C-160 Transall. Initially, the Airbus A400M airlifter was considered for this role. However, both Air Forces determined it couldn’t fulfill all necessary missions.

While the Airbus A400M is primarily a tactical airlifter capable of secondary roles like air-to-air refueling (AAR) using the probe-and-drogue method, it wasn’t suitable for helicopter AAR. 

KC-130 J
KC-130 J: File Image

This limitation led to Germany and France’s decision to select and procure the KC-130J, the extended-range tanker variant of the C-130 Hercules. It has proven its versatility and effectiveness in various roles, including AAR.

Nonetheless, the bi-national squadron achieved notable milestones even during its developmental phase. From January 2020 to October 2023, it transported almost 44,000 passengers and over 23,000 tons of material using its now seven C-130J transport aircraft.

The C-130J’s ability to operate on unpaved runways dramatically enhances the capabilities of both air forces. Additionally, the squadron has embarked on numerous demanding missions, including Afghanistan, Sudan, and Somalia deployments. 

Furthermore, it has engaged in joint exercises such as the Orion exercise hosted by France and the Emerald Warrior 2023 conducted by the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).