By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT) on Monday launched the civil variant of its C-130J Super Hercules military transport plane, the LM-100J, saying it expected to sell about 75 of the planes to mining and energy companies, and other commercial and government customers in coming years.
Lockheed said it had asked the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to certify the LM-100J, which will mirror the four-engine C-130J military workhorse, but without military avionics and communications equipment.
"The significance of that kickoff is that we're expanding the capability of the C-130 enterprise into the commercial arena. That opens up a different market to us," said Jack Crisler, vice president of business development for Lockheed's air mobility, special operations and maritime programs.
Crisler told Reuters that Lockheed hoped to land an initial order for the new LM-100J aircraft this summer but declined to provide more details. He said the turboprop plane, aircraft would be priced in the mid-$60-million range.
Lockheed, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier, is looking to adjacent markets and foreign orders for its weapons to offset weaker U.S. and European defense spending.
Lockheed said it built more than 100 L-100s from 1964 to 1992, and many of those commercial and government customers were now starting to look for replacement aircraft.
Other plane-makers, including Brazil's Embraer (EMBR3.SA), are also eyeing potential sales of large cargo planes.
"The LM-100J is ... a modern answer to the existing, multi-tasked L-100 airlift fleet," George Shultz, vice president and general manager of Lockheed's C-130 programs. "Our customers and legacy L-100 operators tell us that the best replacement for an L-100 is an advanced version of the same aircraft."
Crisler said the plane would give civil operators the technology, reliability and capabilities of the popular C-130J Super Hercules, which can operate from short, unprepared airfields without ground support equipment, and allows quick loading and unloading of equipment at the height of a truck.
He said the plane was ideally suited for use by oil and gas operators and mining companies, which needed to deliver generators and other heavy equipment to austere locations around the world. The plane can also be used for aerial spray, firefighting, medical evaluations, humanitarian aid and VIP transport, Lockheed said.
Lockheed spokeswoman Stephanie Stinn said the civil variant was certified by the FAA in 1998, but Lockheed let the certification lapse as it focused the military C-130J variant, which has racked up over 1 million flight hours worldwide.
Crisler said it would take about three years to build the first LM-100Js, followed by about a year of testing before the civil version of the plane was re-certified.
Crisler said Lockheed was also in talks with 12 foreign countries about additional C-130J orders, adding that he expected several orders to be placed this year.
He said the company expected the C-130J line, now producing 24 aircraft a year, to keep running until beyond the end of the decade given continued strong demand.
"The prospects internationally for the C-130J are very good," Crisler said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by David Gregorio)