The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) wants the Air Force to speed up modernization of its C-130 transport fleet so that it can meet new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) avionics requirements by the 2020 deadline.

The committee last week amended the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to include an extra $10 million for the service’s C-130H avionics modernization program (AMP), pulling that funding from C-37 communications upgrades.

Although HASC is supportive of the Air Force’s current plan to administer AMP, it has concerns about the length of time needed to upgrade the planes, stated the amendment, which was authored by Reps. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.). 

C-130. Photo: Air Force.
C-130. Photo: Air Force.

“Specifically, the proposed timeline proposes to complete certain Federal Aviation Administration compliance concerns by 2022, two years after FAA direction, requiring noncompliant aircraft to seek waivers or limit flight operations,” it said. “Additionally, the AMP increment 2 only supports eight aircraft modernizations per year, which also does not appear to support a fleet viability requirement.”

The amendment directs the Secretary of the Air Force to submit a report to congressional defense committees by March 1, 2016 that lays out a timeline for accelerating modernization so that all aircraft are compliant with FAA standards by the 2020 deadline. The report also calls for an assessment on how to speed up upgrades planed under AMP increment 2, and it must also detail plans to recapitalize Air National Guard and Reserve C-130s.

In recent years, Congress and the Air Force have clashed over the AMP program, with lawmakers mandating the continuation of AMP in legislation. Earlier this year, the service again signaled that it favored a cheaper alternative for modernization.  

During a March 4 seapower and projection forces subcommittee hearing, Air Force Lt. Gen. James  Holmes, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, said that it would cost the service $2.8 billion over the next five years to complete the AMP upgrades necessary to meet FAA requirements. That sum is equivalent to operating its KC-10 or C-5 fleets, he said.

Instead of moving forward with AMP, Holmes suggested an upgrade package that would keep aircraft FAA-compliant at a lower cost. For about $2.5 million per aircraft, the service could equip its C-130s with  8.33 Khz radios, Automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast transceivers, enhanced traffic collision avoidance systems, digital flight recorders and cockpit video recorders.

“What we hope to do is work with you to lay out the details for a more affordable modernization program,” he told the subcommittee.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] manufactures the C-130, while Boeing [BA] is the prime contractor for the avionics modernization program.