Sept. 20 (UPI) -- France received its first KC-130J Super Hercules aerial refueling aircraft in a ceremony at Orleans-Bricy Air Base.
The plane, which arrived on Thursday, is the refueling variant of the C-130J, a durable, four-engine plane built since 1960 by Lockheed Martin.
Designed to supply fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft with fuel, it will give France's Caracal helicopters increased flying time and a "capability unique in Europe," the French defense ministry said in a statement on Friday. Missions of up to five hours, compared to current 90-minute missions, will be possible.
France ordered four Super Hercules aircraft from Lockheed in 2015 through a Foreign Military Sale with the U.S. government. Two C-130J-30 cargo versions were delivered in 2017 and 2018, and a second KC-130J refueling plane is expected to be delivered in 2020.
The sale, at an estimated $650 million, includes the four planes, spare engines, AN/ALE 47 electronic counter-measure dispensers, AN/AAR-47A(V)2 missile warning systems, AN/ALR-56M radar warning receivers, embedded Global Positioning/Inertial Navigation systems, and radios.
"This new capacity developed with the KC-130J is important, especially for tactical missions of the Air Force with the Caracal," Col. Stanislas Michel, commander of the Franche-Comte BA 123 transport squadron which received the plane, said in a press release. "We want to be able to implement that capacity in three months, that's the priority."
France and Germany will collaborate on a C-130J training center located in France, beginning in 2021, when Germany is expected to begin receiving its own tanker fleet from Lockheed.