The Netherlands has made a somewhat surprising decision to replace its legacy fleet of aging C-130H Hercules transport aircraft with the C-390 Millenium (C-390M) from Brazil’s Embraer. The decision was announced by the Netherlands’ Secretary of State for Defense Christophe van der Maat on June 16. The acquisition is valued at EUR1 – EUR2.5 billion ($1 billion-$2.6 billion).
The announcement also noted that the replacement will involve expanding the transport fleet beyond the current total of four airlifters to five, resulting in a one-for-one replacement-plus – an unusual step in modern European procurement whereby numbers generally shrink due to higher costs, fewer personnel, and greater technological advantage derived from more modern platforms.
De C-390M van de Braziliaanse fabrikant Embraer wordt de opvolger voor de C-130H Hercules. De bedoeling is dat het eerste nieuwe transportvliegtuig in 2026 in Nederland aankomt: https://t.co/YAoIDhurkR pic.twitter.com/DjqFa5Mfih
— Ministerie van Defensie (@Defensie) June 16, 2022
The Royal Netherlands Air Force’s four C-130H Hercules airlifters are no longer reliable, according to the Dutch Defense Ministry. Therefore, the current acquisition has been accelerated in order to prevent capability gaps from emerging through 2026, when the first new C-390M is expected to arrive.
The RNLAF’s first two C-130s (both in the C-130H-30 “stretched” variant) replaced four Fokker 60 twin-turboprops. The second pair were purchased in November 2005 under a $63 million contract with Derco Aerospace. These ex-U.S. Navy EC-130Qs were converted to C-130H standard by Marshall Aerospace in the U.K.
The RNLAF had originally intended to continue utilizing its C-130H fleet through 2031, but because of the age of the aircraft and the cost of modernizing them, the Netherlands instead looked to replace them with a new-build, off-the-shelf option. The subsequent acquisition process was launched in 2020.
The broader perception was that the Dutch would tap the Lockheed Martin C-130J as the logical successor, but the Defense Ministry noted that the C-390M can meet the previous minimum flight-hour requirement of 2,400 hours (now being increased to 4,000 hours in light of the NATO evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021, plus the current conflict in Ukraine) with only four aircraft, whereas the C-130J would require five units to meet the same standard. Because of the increased operational need for airlift, however, the Defense Ministry opted to increase the procurement total of C-390Ms by an additional unit.
Once acquired, the C-390Ms will fill the transport mission and not be charged with also conducting in-flight refueling tasks. Instead, the RNLAF will lean on its membership in the Multinational MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) Fleet (MMF) program to provide it with air-to-air refueling capability. The MMF program also involves five other nations – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg and Norway – and draws from nine multirole A330s based at Eindhoven air base in the Netherlands.