Air Drive plans extra assessments of amphibious, armed MC-130J airlifter

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Air Drive Particular Operations Command is shifting ahead with plans to show its cargo planes into weapons-toting, amphibious plane.

Two separate tasks look to push the boundaries of what the C-130 Hercules-based airlifters can do in warfare, notably within the huge Pacific. One needs to show the ocean right into a touchdown strip. One other goals to repurpose the planes as makeshift bombers.

“If we constrain ourselves to serious about [the C-130] as merely a cargo airplane as a result of that’s what it was initially constructed to do, I believe we’re lacking one thing,” AFSOC boss Lt. Gen. Jim Slife informed reporters at a roundtable right here Tuesday.

Flight assessments of an amphibious MC-130J might begin in fiscal 2023, he mentioned. If that succeeds, it might open new alternatives for the place and the way particular operations items can ferry provides around the globe.

“That’s going to provide us the flexibility to show any giant physique of water right into a touchdown zone the place we are able to insert [or] extract particular operations forces and the tools and different issues that may trigger dilemmas for our adversaries,” Slife famous earlier this month.

Congress hasn’t but authorized a protection funds for the brand new fiscal yr, which begins Oct. 1. AFSOC’s cash for flight testing is wrapped up in that course of, which means its earlier timeline of testing the idea by the top of 2022 will doubtless be delayed.

Within the meantime, Slife mentioned his command is vetting the design in a wave tank to verify it’s steady. These assessments have gone properly to this point, he mentioned.

“We began out with a variety of digital designs. We ran by a sequence of testing to determine, will we wish to do a catamaran, a pontoon, an entire applique on the underside of the plane?” Slife mentioned at a Sept. 7 occasion hosted by the Air and House Forces Affiliation.

Officers settled on a design that finest balances components like plane drag, weight and efficiency. It depends on a {hardware} equipment that may be put in within the subject as wanted, although not with out some effort.

Nonetheless, Slife mentioned, it’s simpler than shopping for a whole fleet of amphibious planes outright.

Now the command is determining the logistics of how the Air Drive would assist an amphibious airplane throughout real-world operations.

“It’s been 30 years since I studied aerospace engineering, however what I can recall from my time as an engineering scholar is, in the event you have been going to construct an amphibious airplane, you most likely wouldn’t begin with a C-130. However the C-130 is the ingredient that now we have,” Slife mentioned earlier this month.

Battlefield logistics are additionally a priority for these attempting to show the MC-130J right into a bomb truck.

In December, the Air Drive experimented with launching an extended-range Joint Air-to-Floor Standoff Missile cruise missile, which might hit a goal a whole lot of miles away, out of the again of a Commando II airplane. Now it needs to strive toting 12 Joint Air-to-Floor Standoff Missiles — the identical load because the B-52 Stratofortress bomber can carry.

Comparable efforts are underway for the C-17 Globemaster III airlifter.

“It doesn’t require any plane modifications, it doesn’t require any particular aircrew coaching. It actually simply takes benefit of the traits of that platform,” Slife mentioned of the MC-130J.

In contrast to the B-52, although, an MC-130J wants solely a brief stretch of filth or asphalt to take off and land. That complicates the calculus for anybody that may wish to take out American infrastructure, Slife mentioned.

“It’s not laborious to determine the place all the ten,000-foot concrete runways within the Pacific are. However if you’re attempting to determine the place the three,000-foot straight stretches of highway and grass strips are … that’s a special concentrating on drawback to your adversaries,” he mentioned earlier within the month.

The idea nonetheless requires some considerate planning. Shorter runways could also be more durable to seek out, however they develop into extra conspicuous when a pile of missiles is stacked close by. Palletized munitions can develop into a goal themselves.

“A part of what we’re working by … is weapons storage,” Slife mentioned. “Do we actually need them out in the midst of a subject someplace, subsequent to a straight stretch of highway?

AFSOC can be exploring the prospect of including new sensors and digital warfare capabilities to its airlifters.

The command plans to check out an lively electronically scanned array radar on the airplane, which might let it conduct surveillance and supply precision concentrating on information to different army property.

Relying on which kind of AESA radar is used, the undertaking might supply the Air Drive a strategy to complement the bottom target-tracking capabilities of the E-8C Joint STARS jets. The fleet is within the strategy of retiring after greater than 30 years in service.

“As we have a look at what we’d want it to do for the following 20 years, we have to have a look at totally different capabilities,” Slife mentioned Tuesday. “Issues like an AESA radar on a C-130 open up a number of prospects for every thing from airborne digital assault and airborne cyber results and issues of that nature that, so far, haven’t been a part of our portfolio.”

These sorts of updates are particularly vital as a result of it paves the way in which for America’s companions around the globe to do the identical, he added. Simply three international locations personal strategic bombers — the U.S., Russia and China — however loads of militaries fly cargo airplanes.

Proving that an airlifter can double as a bomber opens up new prospects for what overseas militaries can accomplish in fight. That ought to be a deterrent, not a provocation, Slife argued.

“It does have strategic implications, however I believe that’s all to the constructive,” he mentioned.

“This concept of, ‘Nicely, it’s a cargo airplane. Why would you be utilizing it as a fires supply platform?’” Slife added earlier in September. “I might flip the query round and say, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’”

Rachel Cohen joined Air Drive Occasions as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Drive Journal, Inside Protection, Inside Well being Coverage, the Frederick News-Publish (Md.), the Washington Publish, and others.