The Portuguese government announced on July 11 a firm order for five KC-390 tanker-transport aircraft developed by Brazil’s Embraer. The announcement followed Cabinet approval of the EUR827 million ($932 million) procurement intended to replace the Portuguese Air Force’s legacy airlift fleet of five C-130 Hercules, some of which began entering service 40 years ago. The acquisition had long been expected following a series of steps Portugal made in favor of the KC-390 from 2011 onward.
Efforts to replace or expand upon the C-130 fleet were abandoned due to indecision and an economic downturn between 2003 and 2016.
In early 2003, Portugal withdrew a planned purchase of three A400M airlifters. Portugal had already abandoned the program once, but then returned to the fold in 2001.
Lisbon had a tough decision to make: save money in the short term by attempting to upgrade C-130H transports or gain access to more advanced technology by remaining in the A400M program.
As an interim solution, a decision was made to upgrade the existing inventory of C-130Hs, a plan that had been delayed by budget shortcomings. It was announced in summer 2006 that the FAP C-130H upgrade program would go forward, but it was not included in the government’s 2009 LPM (Military Planning Law) revision.
Instead, it was postponed into 2010, and thereafter continued to be put off due to financial considerations despite being considered a top priority by both the Defense Ministry and Air Force.
Meanwhile, another transport carrier solution emerged in the KC-390 medium-size, twin-engine tanker-transport.
Portugal’s Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Economy and Employment signed partnership agreements with Embraer in December 2011 regarding the involvement in the project of Portuguese company OGMA, as well as the potential acquisition of the aircraft. Portugal also invested some EUR30 million in the KC-390 program between 2012 and 2015.
Portugal increasingly began to look upon the KC-390 as a preferred long-term airlift solution, and by June 2017 the government opted to move toward the procurement of five of the aircraft. On July 27, 2017, Portugal’s Council of Ministers authorized the Defense Ministry to open negotiations with Embraer regarding a buy of five aircraft, plus a potential sixth on option.
The agreement announced by Embraer and the Portuguese government includes the five aircraft, plus a flight simulator and personnel training and logistical support.
The first aircraft will be delivered to Portugal in February 2023, with the remainder arriving at a rate of one per year through February 2027.