PETER LA FRANCHI / CANBERRA
Australia is carrying on a project begun in secret in 1995
The Royal Australian Air Force has converted a Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules into an airborne electronic intelligence aircraft, similar to two Lockheed Martin EP-3C Orions that it secretly modified between 1995 and 1997.
The "EC-130H" modification was carried out via a still-classified programme known as "Project Peacemate". Earlier phases of the same project led to theEP-3C conversions. The majority of equipment for both aircraft types was purchased through the US foreign military sales system.
Tenix Systems was prime contractor for the EC-130H. Work started in 1998 and may have been finalised early enough in 1999 to allow the aircraft to be used during Australia's East Timor deployment which commenced in August the same year.
The modification was in parallel with a project to fit four RAAF C-130Hs with interim electronic warfare self-protection suites - comprising an Elisra SPS-1000 radar warning receiver and a BAE Systems ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser - and cockpit armour pending the design of a standardised EW system for all RAAF Hercules. Tenix returned the fourth aircraft to service in March 2000.
The ELINT suite fitted to theEC-130H is understood to be similar to that carried by the EP-3Cs, with both types of aircraft carrying a mixed crew of RAAF and Defence Signals Directorate (DSD)personnel.
However, the Hercules also has been equipped with a satellite communications system to allow near real-time transmission of intercepted signals back to ground-based analysts located at DSD facilities in Canberra and Adelaide.
The two EP-3Cs carry a portable satellite communications system which can be set up once the aircraft has landed to forward data to the DSD.
The prime contractor for theEP-3C conversions, which are now part of Australia's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, was Raytheon Systems, supported by Hawker de Havilland. Tenix owned Hawker de Havilland during the period of the EC-130 conversion, but last year it sold the company to Boeing.
Source: Flight International