The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has officially opened the first squadron of its C-130J Super Hercules tactical transport aircraft during a ceremony at the Nevatim Airbase near Be'er Sheva, Israel.
Also known as 'Elephants', the squadron had operated the C-130J predecessor, the C-130 Hercules, until it closed more than five months ago.
The squadron is slated to operate the advanced transport plane, which will be nicknamed Shimshon in IAF service, from 2014.
An advanced variant of the C-130 Hercules plane currently operated by the "Yellow Birds" squadron, the C130-J Super Hercules resembles its predecessor, but is wider, faster, and can carry more equipment.
Speaking during the inauguration ceremony, Navatim Airbase commander brigadier general Lihu Hacohen said, ''The Hercules C-130J plane gives the force new capabilities and more possibilities."
The aircraft is expected to be integrated with domestically manufactured systems that will increase its suitability to the IAF's mission.
Three C-130J-30 aircraft were ordered by the IAF under US foreign military sales (FMS) programmes in 2010 and 2011 respectively, to help replace its ageing C-130E Hercules fleet, which was acquired in the 1970s.
An extended fuselage variant of the C-130J Hercules, the C-130J-30 is a four-engine, medium-lift military transport aircraft designed to carry out a wide range of military, civilian and humanitarian assistance operations in harsh environments worldwide.
In addition to an expanded cargo compartment, the aircraft also features a two-pilot flight station with fully-integrated digital avionics, colour multifunctional liquid crystal displays and head-up displays, and enhanced navigation systems with dual inertial navigation system and GPS.
The aircraft is also operational with the air forces in the US, Australia, Canada, Denmark, India and Norway.
Lockheed Martin handed over the first aircraft to the IAF at its production facility in Georgia, US, in July 2013, while in-country delivery is scheduled to take place in April 2014.
Image: IAF's new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft will be operated by the newly opened Elephants Squadron from 2014. Photo: courtesy of the IAF.