A cheaper top up to our firefighting fleet?

Last year Prime Minister Scott Morrison came back from his Hawaii holiday to appear to do something about the Aussie bush-fires. So he agreed to hire 4 DC10’s at $5 million each or $20 million for the lot per year.

There might be a cheaper option for our next ‘top up’. Sure we need to maintain our own permanent firefighting fleet. But what if we face catastrophic mega-fires like this more regularly into the future? What if we find we need to top up our fleet more regularly?

The Air-Force has 12 Hercules planes out at the Richmond NSW airbase. These can be converted into water bombers as needed. The water tank only takes about an hour to install on the Hercules. It’s called the MAFFS, Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System. The Hercules is converted from a cargo plane or passenger vehicle to a water bomber for a few weeks or months of the worst fire seasons. The bonus? The MAFF’s system apparently only costs $100,000 each. That’s only $1.2 million to own 12 units that would convert Hercules planes into water-bombers.

A MAFFS fitted Hercules drops an amazing 10,000 litres of 10 tons of water. But that’s only a quarter of what a DC10 Airtanker can drop! But here’s where it gets interesting. While it takes four Hercules MAFF’s to replace one DC10, the DC10’s cost $5 million each to lease. The MAFFS only costs $100,000 each to buy. That’s $1.2 million to convert our 12 Hercules into the equivalent 3 DC10’s (on permanent standby, but performing normal ADF duties in the meantime.)

They would be stored at the Richmond airbase. The whims of international fire seasons and overseas natural disasters would not slow down delivery. And if we need more Hercules — given climate change is only going to bring more fires and floods — then with the $15 million we save each year we could always BUY more Hercules! They’re good for military cargo, dropping humanitarian relief cargo after a flood or cyclone, as well as evacuating personnel from a disaster and quickly converting into water-bombers. The Hercules: the all purpose workhorse for military transport and natural disaster relief. We should buy another dozen and fit them out all 24 for MAFFS!

A C-130H Hercules, from the 302nd Air Wing, Peterson AFB, makes a water drop Wednesday May 2, 2007 at the Albuquerque Air Tanker Base during annual MAFFS training. C-130 aircrews from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are training with MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System) at the U.S. Forest Service’s Albuquerque Air Tanker Base in New Mexico. Established by Congress in the early 1970’s as a wildland fire protection program, MAFFS is a joint program with the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, and the U.S. Forest Service. The system was developed for installation in a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Currently there are eight MAFFS units with two systems each at 153rd Airlift Wing at Cheyenne, WY, ANG, 146th AW, Port Hueneme, CA, ANG. 145th AW, Charlotte, NC, ANG, and this year’s training host, the 302nd AW, Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs, CO Air Force Reserve. (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt Rick Sforza, 4th Combat Camera Squadron)(Released)

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