After years of engineering, it’s finally here: the first Super Hercules C-130J fleet landed at the Nevatim Air Base, southeast of Beersheba, on Wednesday and was inaugurated into the Israel Air Force ranks.

The planes, acquired from Lockheed Martin in June 2013, also known as Samsons, are the first of what is to make up the reinvented Elephant Squadron.

Designed over several years by American engineers, it’s larger and comes complete with more advanced technology than its predecessors. According to the IDF Spokesman’s Office, it has a range of 4,000 km. and will be equipped with advanced computer systems that will allow technicians to monitor the plane’s routine operations in order to automatically detect malfunctions.

The Super Hercules will also be able to carry heavier weights than older models.

According to the Israel Air Force, it can carry 43 percent more weight – the equivalent of 28 more paratroopers in full gear, or one more armored military vehicle.

“The more a plane can carry, the fewer trips we have to make to get our forces into the field,” Lt.-Col Ori, the squadron’s commander, said.

Several high-ranking officials attended the plane’s inauguration ceremony, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.

Ya’alon thanked the soldiers that will be in charge of not only flying the planes but taking care of them as well, calling them the brains and the heart of the air force.

“The IAF – more than technology, more than planes and helicopters, more than UAVs – relies on its manpower: the pilots, mechanics, technicians and auxiliary combat soldiers,” he said.

Ya’alon thanked Shapiro while stressing the importance of the plane to Israeli-American diplomatic relations.

“Here, Dan, at Nevatim Air Base, we see the strengthening of the connection between countries... a relationship based on shared values and interests.”

Marillyn Hewson, chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin, which manufactured and delivered the C-130J Super Hercules to Israel, addressed the participants of the ceremony, saying, “I am especially honored to mark this occasion in the presence of so many brave and talented members of the IAF. All of us at Lockheed Martin are proud to support the Israel Defense Force in its mission to protect and defend the State of Israel.

“We feel privileged to bring you the world’s most advanced technology to meet the complex and dynamic security challenges of this region. And we are proud of our decades-long partnership.

Today, we mark the latest milestone in that important partnership.

And we celebrate the long-time friendship between Israel and the United States of America,” she said.

Referring to the IAF’s name for the C-130J, Samson, Hewson said, “Shimshon [Samson] was a leader whose power was thought to be as mighty as the sun. Shimshon used his power to combat the enemies of Israel and perform heroic feats. In the same way this aircraft will support the defense of Israel. And the men and women who are the heroes of the Israeli Defense Force.”

Israel ordered its C-130Js through a Foreign Military Sale contract with the US government. This is the first ferry of the C-130Js on order for the IAF, which has operated the older C-130 model since 1971.

The C-130J was first delivered to the IAF in June 2013 in Marietta, Georgia, at the Lockheed Martin facility where it was manufactured. The aircraft remained in the US to receive Israeli- specific, post-production modifications.

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