C-130H

Airmen wave from a C-130H last summer as the 136th Airlift Wing prepares to deploy from Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. L3 has won an almost $500 million contract to upgrade C-130H’s over the next decade, and the majority of the work will take place at L3’s Waco plant.

The L3 Technologies plant in Waco, stung by layoffs and called out by the company’s chief executive in recent years, will take the lead on a new $499 million contract the Department of Defense awarded to upgrade nearly 180 National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130H aircraft, the Pentagon announced this week.

The contract will generate jobs at the L3 Technologies complex at Texas State Technical College airport, but exact numbers have not been determined, L3’s local spokesman, Lance Martin, said in an email response to questions.

“Employment numbers at Waco have been increasing this year, and with recent new hires, our current full-time staffing is in excess of 760 personnel and growing,” he later said in a statement. “We are currently employing approximately 100 contractors to address some surge requirements and will continue to add full and part-time personnel as the demand increases with our focus on winning new business.”

Those 100 contractors are in addition to the 760 full-timers, Martin said.

The new development is quite a departure from recent trends at L3 in Waco, where layoffs had become commonplace. More than 60 positions were cut late last year as work orders dried up and rumors about the site’s fate began to circulate. Then-new President, CEO and Chairman Chris Kubasik declared during a conference call in January last year that the company needed to land more contracts for Waco.

L3 occupies a sprawling complex of hangars, work areas and administrative offices adjacent to TSTC. An 8,600-foot-long runway there is a remnant of James Connally Air Force Base and can accommodate any aircraft. A series of aviation-and-aerospace-related users have operated there, with employment once hovering at about 2,000, including private contractors.

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, whose congressional district includes Waco, said by phone his office lobbied for L3 in its pursuit of the contract, “through letters and meetings with our fellow representatives.” He said L3 “brought us in early in the process, and we did for them what we try to do for others.”

“I think this will take away the uncertainty this plant has gone through,” Flores said. “It is a bell cow contract that will help the Waco facility maintain stable employment. It’s a piece of good news, the first in a while, and is positive for both L3 and the community. That employment level, 760, will start growing as the planes start coming in from the Air Force. I understand that will take place on an accelerated basis. You will be seeing more planes quickly.”

Flores said L3’s involvement in this project for the Air Force should provide cachet that other branches will note and respect.

The lawmaker referenced the pending merger between L3 Technologies and Florida-based Harris Corp., a deal that would create one of the largest defense contracting entities in the United States, with a projected revenue of $16 billion annually. Stockholders for each company have signed off on the merger, which now awaits regulatory approval. Flores said he believes both entities consider Waco operations indispensable going forward.

“There was never a lot of danger it would close down, though it did encounter a hard time maintaining a sustainable work flow,” Flores said. “This contract will, as I said, provide a stabilizing influence. There is an entire generation of 130 aircraft that needs to be updated and refurbished. There is a lot of work to do for the next several years. I just wish we could have announced this earlier. I knew about this on March 29, hinted about it to community leaders, but another company involved in the bidding reportedly had issues and protested the awarding of a contract. That protest has now been resolved. It was never a serious threat. The other contractor could have provided one small component. There is no way it could have become the prime contractor.”

He said he did not recall the name of the protesting competitor.

The Air Force received six bids, according to a Department of Defense contract notice. The Air Force initially will provide $37.4 million from its research, development, test and evaluation funds, and work on the almost $500 million contract is scheduled to last through September 2029, according to the notice.

The contract calls for L3 to “design, produce and certify a state-of-the-art modernization solution for a fleet of 176 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130H aircraft.” Variations of the C-130 aircraft have been around since the 1950s and the Korean War, and the plane has been heavily used by the U.S. military to haul troops and supplies to remote battle sites and disaster areas around the world.

An article Popular Mechanics magazine published in April 2017 describes the C-130 as a “badass” plane that can go anywhere and do anything.

The magazine said the C-130 has “a squat stance, bulbous nose, four big turboprop engines and massive fuselage … but what it lacks in sleekness it more than makes up for in heart.”

In Waco, crews will install a commercial “off-the-shelf” suite of avionics, or electronic, upgrades on C-130H variants, including the C-130-H1, C-130H2, C-130H2.5, C-130H3 and LC-130H, according to an L3 press release.

“L3’s aircraft modernization and modification capabilities are world-class,” Jeff Miller, L3’s president of the systems segment that includes Waco, wrote in the press release. “Our skilled workforce and our unique 1.25-million-square-foot facility in Waco will provide differentiated capabilities for C-130H fleet longevity.”

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