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Australia’s wartime capabilities will be greatly bolstered under a new multibillion-dollar deal as nations gather for important war games.

The federal government revealed on Monday plans to almost double the RAAF’s fleet of C-130 Hercules aircraft under a $9.8bn deal.

The air force will begin receiving 20 new C130J aircraft from 2027 under the plan, aimed at replacing and expanding its existing fleet.

Currently, the RAAF operates 12 Hercules aircraft – know as the air force’s “workhorse” – which are used at home and abroad.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the aircraft were a “crucial asset” to the nation and the RAAF’s defence capability.

He said the aircraft had been used during emergency responses to floods, bushfires and Covid as well as in peacekeeping operations.

The deal comes as the US and 11 other nations gather in Australia for the biennial Talisman Sabre war games.

The Combined Task Force operations are aimed at improving the combat readiness of Australia and its allies.

Last week, it was revealed China’s People’s Liberation Army had sent at least one vessel to Australia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

An anonymous source told the ABC the ship was believed to have been sent to monitor exercises taking place off of the Northern Territory.

A second vessel was also believed to be potentially heading for Queensland’s Shoalwater Bay Training Area this week.

Talisman Sabre 23 director Brigadier Damien Hill said appropriate precautions would be taken amid news of the PLA’s presence.

He added that Chinese ships were free to operate in the EEZ, with Operation Sabre exercises extending from Western Australia to Norfolk Island.

“We monitor our borders very carefully and that includes nations such as the PLA operating,” Brigadier Hill said.

“As long as they do so in accordance with international law, there will be no issues from us.”

The news mirrored reports out of Taiwan that China had sent dozens of planes towards the island amid war games being conducted there.

More than 30,000 troops from 13 nations are expected to gather in Australia over two weeks during Operation Sabre.

The forces will participate in high-end multi-domain warfighting across sea, land, air, cyber, and space, while several other nations are observing.

It is unclear whether C-130 Hercules aircraft will be involved in Talisman Sabre, with the planes being used in overseas missions.

Hercules were widely used during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and in peacekeeping operations in Bougainville and Timor-Leste.

More recently, they supported Australia’s Covid response, delivering vaccines and medical supplies as well bushfire and flood response.

The Australian Defence Force relies on the C-130J Hercules aircraft for the deployment of personnel, equipment, and humanitarian supplies.

The iconic aircraft is also regularly used in search and rescue missions, disaster relief and medical evacuation.

Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said the aircraft proved to be a “reliable workhorse” in roles from humanitarian operations to conflict zones.

“Having 20 aircraft, up from 12, will mean more opportunities for local industry to sustain the aircraft, creating more Australian jobs,” he said.

“There’ll also be jobs associated with infrastructure redevelopments at RAAF Base Richmond.”

The C-130J Hercules are made by Lockheed Martin and will be purchased from the US

The aircraft will continue to be operated by No. 37 Squadron at RAAF Base Richmond in NSW.

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By Rahul

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