Retiring RAF's Hercules will leave initial capability gap, new air chief says

Watch: Sir Richard Knighton warns that the replacement of the Hercules could lead to a gap in capability.

The decision to replace the RAF's C-130J Hercules aircraft with the Atlas C.1 A400M will result in an initial capability gap, the incoming Chief of the Air Staff has said.

Air Marshal Sir Richard Knighton, the Chief of the Air Staff (designate), has said that plans to replace the Hercules aircraft would leave a temporary capability hole for Special Forces operations.

The C-130J Hercules has been in service for the British Armed Forces since 1999 and is due to be retired at the end of June.

AM Sir Richard said: "There is a gap from when the Hercules goes out of service to when the A400M picks up all of those capabilities.

"The niche issues where the gap is is around the airdrop and the kind of things we can drop from the aircraft."

His concerns were echoed by the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood, a former Army captain and now reserve officer in the Army's 77th Brigade.

The C-130 Hercules aircraft will be replaced by the Atlas C.1 A400M.
The C-130 Hercules aircraft will be replaced by the Atlas C.1 A400M.

Mr Ellwood said: "I hear you (the Government) say you can't comment on Special Forces, the trouble is that you are dealing with procurement and removing an asset which will affect Special Forces (SF).

"We know it'll affect Special Forces because we've been told so.

"You're losing a capability... you say it's going to come in 2025.

"What we realise is what the SF won't be able to do if the Hercules is dropped," he added.

Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Richard John Knighton KCB (Picture: MOD, RAF).
New Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Richard Knighton (Picture: RAF).

The Atlas can carry 116 soldiers, 24 more than the C-130J Hercules and also has an increased payload of 37,000kg, compared to the C-130's capacity of 19,050kg.

Fifteen nations are interested in buying RAF Hercules aircraft - 11 of which are Nato members. 

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