How Much for a C130

Trying to determine the unit price of pretty much any military equipment is extremely difficult, remember those cheap Blackhawk helicopters?

Whether the price includes training and logistics, spares, is in a multi-year contract, different variants or engines or development costs will determine the price, this makes making comparisons with what one nation pays with another, almost impossible.

What the US Army might pay for a Blackhawk is not the same as Columbia or the UK.

The same goes for Hercules, the Hercules is often touted as a cheap aircraft, usually when comparing it to the A400M Atlas.

RAF Voyager and C130 Hercules

With great timing, a couple announcements on the cost of the C130 (models various)

The US Air Force…

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Marietta, Georgia, has been awarded a $968,745,411 undefinitized contract action modification (P00005) to previously awarded contract FA8625-14-C-6450 for C-130J multi-year production aircraft.  Contractor will provide 17 C-130J aircraft in the following configurations: six C-130J-30, one HC-130J, nine MC-130J, and one KC-130J aircraft.

If one wanted, it would be easy to do some back of a fag packet maths and come up with a unit price average of $57 million, or cheap as the proverbial chips.

At the same time, France has agreed on terms for the purchase of two C-130J and two KC-130J.

How much, a whopping $650 million, using the same basic maths, $162 million each.

From two internet sources, a price from £57 million to £162 million for the same aircraft type.

But look carefully at the DCSA link, the Major Defence Equipment (aircraft and four spare engines) comes in at $355 million, or $88 million each. The rest is additional equipment, training and other support items.

It also provides an example rule of thumb that unit price is usually doubled, and this is even for a nation with an existing fleet of C130’s, albeit older versions.

This is the reason why anything that quotes a unit price should always be treated with caution, the devil is always in the details.

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November 16, 2015 9:31 am

Get the MC-130P Combat Shadow–oh wait not many UK utility helicopters have AAR probes.

November 16, 2015 10:38 am

I mean MC-130W Combat Spear

November 16, 2015 10:44 am

…Or to put another way…

The plane builders will sting you for as much as they can. Because they don’t know where the next order is coming from….

…And the US military have worked out that they can get it cheaper if:
1). They buy lots, and
2). They get lots of foreign military sales.

I’m still a bit confused about the whole military sales thing… Coming from the airline world (as some of you might have gleaned- word of the day: challenge is to get it into at least one post in the right context and not a direct quote)

After all we get quoted a ‘flyaway’ price which includes initial crew and maintenance training, manuals etc… We have none of these ‘support’ contracts- mind you, most airlines have an established and experienced maintenance organisations, to which slotting in a new aircraft type is nothing…

…Oh wait…don’t the services also have ‘an established and experienced maintenance organisation’ too…

November 16, 2015 4:51 pm
…Oh wait…don’t the services also have ‘an established and experienced maintenance organisation’ too…

By comparison to the US military, France and every other European nation has next to nothing. The US depth of resource is a very deep dark pit, indeed. Perhaps the reason France went for a support contract in addition to the material purchases was because their existing infrastructure simply couldn’t absorb four new airframes, or provide for their personnel and logistical requirements. So this contract isn’t just an equipment purchase, but covers the cost of expanding their support infrastructure as well.

Caveat emptor!


Diabolus in Suptilitate

November 16, 2015 7:55 pm

Whilst not a ‘simple case’ is this not just that the US has paid the development costs and incur the marginal cost of production of each extra unit, whereas those who haven’t paid for the development, tooling, and bulk materials purchases have to pay a decent share. Sounds fair to me. This is what frustrates me about our published figures, an extra T26 is probably very cheap, but we will be told it costs the earth.

November 17, 2015 12:31 am
Reply to  MSR

France has a dozen existing C-130H, so Im sure they can handle a very similar plane. Support contract probably just means supply of regular spares. Well the manuals would be translated into french so that may have cost a bit.

I understood the FMS sales price for an actual plane was the same as the US government paid plus a small % contribution to R&D ( where that applied). But of course the USAF just sends two pilots to fly it away and its training and maintenance support is in place. or would be covered in separate contracts.
I dont think buying the hardware is as a ‘what the market will bare’ price unless you are dealing with LM direct, but then close allies get the best deal through FMS.

40 deg south
40 deg south
November 17, 2015 12:51 am

Very timely post, TD.
NZ’s five C-130H are just clocking up 50 years of service, and clearly can’t go on forever. A Defence White Paper expected early next year will hopefully set out NZ’s requirements for replacement. This could be either like-for-like, or something larger (presumably A400M) to keep up the general growth in size of military equipment.
If the price paid by the French here is reflective of what NZ will have to pay for C-130s, the cost gap between that and the A400 might be smaller than most commentators expect.

November 17, 2015 12:00 pm

Got to this stream, eventually. A smashing start:
“What the US Army might pay for a Blackhawk is not the same as Columbia or the UK.”

Indeed , it is the whole continuum here, as Columbia got their Blackhawks for free
“Plan Colombia Helicopter Program (PCHP) comprises helicopters provided for free by the U.S. government to the Colombian Army. The program needs 43 contract pilots and 87 contract mechanics to operate.
17 Bell UH-1N helicopters (Former Canadian aircraft bought via US gov[47] )
22 Bell UH-1H (Huey II) helicopters
13 Sikorsky UH-60L helicopters”

November 17, 2015 12:09 pm

RE “the FMS sales price for an actual plane was the same as the US government paid plus a small % contribution to R&D ( where that applied)”
– I think it is more like a handling fee (the military will be involved at their end, too, it is not just about the option to take support, or not, once delivered… which again will be fully costed, even if the hardware came under the advantageous “volume discount”)
– an example: If Canada forfeits on the F35 deal (which has never been signed), they will lose about $100m in these fees

November 17, 2015 6:12 pm

In my experience, FMS fees are typically 20%+, so taking list price isn’t really right. Of course a lot varies dependenton situation and some countries get stuff for free.

Canada’s (or the UK’s) involvement with F-35 is on a partnership basis which sees partners contribute to R&D but should avoid FMS. Other nations e.g. Japan are just going down the FMS route, but LM/JPO haveoffered sweeteners in order to keep orders up.

November 17, 2015 6:35 pm

The USAF can do $115m damage to theirs on a total write off…

November 17, 2015 6:39 pm


That’s like joining a club on life basis, and if you want out your only reseller is the Club itself, who take 20% for the pleasure (to keep it exclusive, rather than selling brand new memberships, and leaving you stuck)
– or are we mixing the admin handling fee and some real services here?