US Marine Corps plans to convert KC-130J tankers into gunships

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The US Marine Corps has decided to convert some Lockheed Martin KC-130J tankers into combination surveillance platforms and gunships.

The renamed KC-130J "Harvest Hawk" would retain the wing-mounted refuelling pods and tanker mission, but add a new targeting sensor and a 30mm cannon, the USMC says.

Marine commanders have issued an urgent request for the Harvest Hawk capability, believing that the KC-130J could be used as more than simply a refuelling system for helicopters and tiltrotors. "If we can get more utility out of the tanker platform - then why not," the service says.

US Naval Air Systems Command is working with several suppliers to implement the Harvest Hawk platform.

lance cpl kelly chase/us navy
 © Lance Cpl Kelly Chase/US Navy

The electro-optical targeting sensor is a pending choice between Lockheed's Target Sight System (TSS) already installed on the Bell Helicopter AH-1Z attack helicopter, or the L-3 Wescam MX-15. The TSS has already been selected for installation on some Lockheed AC-130 gunships operated by US Special Operations Command.

The precise number of Harvest Hawk platforms to be prepared and the timeline for deliveries was not immediately available.

When it is deployed, the Harvest Hawk will join a growing mix of manned aircraft being converted into multi-role surveillance and strike platforms. The Defense Intelligence Agency, for example, now operates C-130s called Shadow Harvest, which are equipped with a BAE Systems hyperspectral imaging sensor.

The US Air Force is converting more than 30 Beechcraft C-12 Hurons into a new manned surveillance fleet called MC-12 Libertys.

The US Army started the trend in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 by converting some Shorts C-23B Sherpas into surveillance platforms called Constant Hawks.