Replacing the C-130E

RAND Solution

The last C-130E Hercules at Hurlburt Field, Fla., prepares for its final take off March 4, 2013, prior to retirement


The C-130 fleet performs critical air mobility functions for the nation, but part of that fleet is at risk from age-related factors. The Air Force required a rigorous, objective analysis of options for recapitalizing aging C-130Es. Which alternative aircraft would provide the required performance at lowest cost?


A Coast Guard C-130 undergoing maintenance at Robins AFB, completed August 12, 2012

Tactical airlift is an essential part of U.S. military operations, delivering vital supplies and equipment within a theater of operations. The C-130 is one of the workhorses of tactical airlift, but parts of the fleet are showing signs of age. C-130Es and C-130H1s, in particular, are nearing the end of their useful life due to structural fatigue issues, corrosion, and aging aircraft systems. Policymakers have debated whether to procure C-27Js as a cost-effective replacement for the retiring C-130s or to continue procurement of the latest version of the C-130 — the C-130J-30. Prior to RAND's study, the Air Force had planned to acquire some C-27Js.

Under the sponsorship of Air Mobility Command, RAND conducted a functional solutions analysis on intratheater delivery. This effort culminated in an objective study of the cost-effectiveness of various aircraft options for intratheater airlift operations.

“The C-130 is one of the workhorses of tactical airlift, but parts of the fleet are showing signs of age.”

Project Description

RAND developed a methodology to determine the most cost-effective way to provide intratheater airlift, as defined in the Mobility Capabilities Study and other planning scenarios. Researchers examined a set of alternatives to meet a wide range of demands, including missions typical of major contingencies, those being flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, a long-range mission in Africa, and access to short and soft runways in remote areas. For each mission, researchers estimated how many of each aircraft would be needed to meet the requirement, then assessed the cost of each fleet.

Research Questions

  1. What is the most cost-effective alternative for meeting a range of mission requirements?

Key Findings

  • The C-27J offers 40 percent of the C-130J-30's intratheater lift capability at two-thirds the cost.
  • The C-130J-30 and the C-27J have comparable short- and soft-field performance.
  • The C-130J-30 is cost-effective for all missions analyzed.
Crew chiefs replace a tire on a C-130 Hercules, March 6, 2013, on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan


RAND helped the Air Force home in on the best recapitalization solution for the retiring C-130Es. Informed by RAND analysis, the Air Force is proceeding with plans to recapitalize retiring C-130Es with C-130J-30s. This is expected to save $17 billion over the life of the system compared to recapitalization with C-27Js. The previously planned C-27J procurement was cancelled.