Skip to comments.Lockheed Unveils New Super Versatile Special Operations C-130 Variant
Posted on 06/21/2017 4:00:12 AM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
The C-130's legacy as the do everything air hauler is well cemented into the annals of aviation and military history. But over 60 years after it first flew, the iconic design just keeps getting better. Today it's all about multirole platforms, where one aircraft can execute many different missions. For much of its life, the USAF has fielded tricked-out special operations variants of the mighty Hercules, and in recent years, bolt-on systems have given the most mild-mannered Hercules incredible new capabilitiesfrom surveillance to close air support. Now Lockheed is rolling all the modular versatility it can into a single exportable special operations configured Hercules model, dubbed the C-130J-SOF.
The idea behind the new variant is to build in many of the special operations qualities that have been honed over decades of primarily American spec ops C-130 operations and production, into a single design that can be exported to friendly air arms around the globe. These include not only elements of special operations tanker, transport, and combat search and rescue Hercules, but also some aspects of the AC-130 gunship and the USMC's "Harvest Hawk" modular kit that turns their KC-130Js into missile slinging and sensor wielding light air support and reconnaissance aircraft.
Lockheed says the C-130J-SOF alone can execute airdrop, resupply, combat search and rescue and infiltration and exfiltration missions. In addition, it can act as a tanker for other aircraft in the air and on the ground, and also execute psychological and humanitarian relief operations. The new variant can also work as an airborne sensor platform, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of many types. Being able to work as a tactical airborne command post is also a given. The icing on the cake though is the C-130J-SOF's ability to turn into an airborne death machine by strapping on a 30mm to its rear-paratrooper door, as well as Hellfire and other missiles to its wing pylons. So basically it can be converted into a gunship for armed overwatch, armed reconnaissance and close air support missions.
In the past, separate aircraft were required to do many of these missions, and although third party roll-on, roll-off and bolt-on systems exist for turning a C-130 into everything from an electronic warfare and communications relay platform to a refueling aircraft, they weren't all integrated by the OEM into such a tight and comprehensive package. Also, by buying such a versatile machine from the manufacturer, systems and weapons integration costs that would have crushed smaller air force's budgets can be avoided.
This is really the "Leatherman multitool" of combat aircraft if there ever were one.
The C-130J-SOF will likely have a wide array of extra options, like the latest in defensive countermeasures, satellite and line-of-sight communications, as well as specialized sensors, like multiple forward looking infrared (FLIR) systems and terrain following radar. Also a night vision compatible cockpit, and additional armor will likely be fitted, not to mention enhanced power generation capabilities needed to run all the aircraft's extra electricity-hungry subsystems.
Thomas Newdick @CombatAir
Quick and dirty shot of newly disclosed @LockheedMartin C-130J-SOF model. Note 30mm gun and Hellfire missiles.
Lockheed expects to produce between 100 and 200 of these variants for allied countries around the globe, with a price starting at about $80 millionroughly ten million more than the C-130J's "base model" price tag. That is a lot of highly relevant capability and versatility that can be had for the price of a single modern strike fighter. Lockheed told reporters the aircraft could be delivered in as soon as 36 months.
At its core, the aircraft will be able to accomplish mundane transport duties and bring hose and drogue aerial refueling capability to countries that don't have it in their weapons portfolio today, as well as all its other capabilities. For wealthier nations that are F-35 customers or are potential F-35 customers in the future, the C-130J-SOF could be the perfect pairing with the stealth fighter. Forward operations from austere locations is becoming a key tenet of America's stealth fighter playbook, and those operations will depend on the "fat cow" like forward-arming and refueling point capabilities of special ops C-130s or Marine KC-130s.
By purchasing F-35s along with a handful of C-130J-SOFs, a country can drastically increase their tactical unpredictability, and in some cases the survivability of some of their most expensive air combat assets. Above all else, they can extend the reach of their new stealth fighters. The F-35Bs in particular is very well suited for this type of mission set and could also use the Hercules as an aerial tanker. But either F-35 version can operate with this new Hercules derivative jointly for special operations and pilot recovery missions.
For countries in the Middle East and Asia, the ability to convert the aircraft into a precision fire and surveillance support platform makes it a very attractive tool for confronting everything from border security issues, to anti-terrorism operations, to keeping enemy swarming small boats at bay. Even NATO countries are looking for just this type of solution, but cannot justify buying highly expensive and purpose-built AC-130 gunships. France in particular seems to be in the market for such a weapon system.
The C-130J-SOF joins the new civilian model of the C-130Jthe LM-100Jas new C-130 offerings drawing big attention at this year's Paris Air Show.
Long live the mighty Hercules.
“C-130 rolling down the strip
Airborne ranger going to take a little trip.
Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door,
Jump right out and count to four.”
>>Special operators have been singing that song for half a century. What an airplane!<<
I’m in LOOOOOVE...!!
Does it have the 30 MM cannon like the A-10?
Still the best, most versatile theater transport in the world. It would be interesting if they deleted the Hellfires and integrated Tomahawk but I guess that would give some other countries verification issues.
It looks like that is an option!
"The icing on the cake though is the C-130J-SOF's ability to turn into an airborne death machine by strapping on a 30mm to its rear-paratrooper door..."
USAF says ‘AC-130J Ghostrider is set to be the most heavily-armed gunship in history, bristling with 30mm and 105mm cannons, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, and the ability to carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs’.
Some aircraft are just perfect. The C-130, the C-47, Boeing 737, Bell Jet Ranger, Chinook, etc.
They came off the paper so well-designed that only minor changes keep them current.
Where I live we have orange barrels EVERYWHERE! I could use one of these to get myself airlifted into my drive way! :(
Is what we dreaded ever seeing on a P-3 back in the day. Missions were long enough - refueling us on station would have been a killer.
I could see it working usefully with F-35 and F-22 fighters, as a “missile truck”.
Load it up with long-range armament, have fighters way ahead of it designate targets, and the C-130 sends missiles out to the targets, while the C-130 hangs back out of range of enemy anti-air.
I’ve always loved the Hercules.
Nope, you would need to extensively modify the C-130 or any other aircraft to carry the seven-barrel Gatling that only the A-10 uses. The AC-130s of the USAF already have a smaller 30mm option.
Maybe it’s a different cannon than the A-10 uses? I just wondered how you would get something that big mounted sideways in a C-130.
Seems more like a stripped down AC-130 to me...
And there won’t be any aerial resupplies with a 30mm cannon on the ramp...
My father worked on them 50 years ago, I work on parts for them today.
I call it “The traditional Waring family airplane”.
Ah, OK, thanks for the explanation.
This variety is a “bad mamma jamma”.
With the addition of the Marine Corps’ ISR / Weapon Mission Kit, the KC-130J is able to serve as an over watch aircraft and can deliver ground support fire in the form of Hellfire or Griffin missiles, precision-guided bombs, and eventually 30mm cannon fire in a later upgrade. This capability, designated as “Harvest HAWK” (Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit), can be used in scenarios where precision is not a requisite, such as area denial.
You are correct. Some aircraft designs are as close to perfection as it gets, and you named the two best: C-47 (DC3) and C-130. I have flown on both, and, aside from the noise (especially on the C-130), the “honey buckets” on both, they are designed to fly, and fly, and keep on flying.
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