The HC/MC-130J is a tailored common core special operations variant intended to replace all of the ‘Heritage Herc’ types now used by the USAF’s Special Operations Command.
These include HC-130N and HC-130Ps, and MC-130Es, MC-130Ps and MC-130Hs, used in the CSAR (combat search and rescue) and special forces roles.
In the more distant future, Lockheed hopes that this common core airframe will form the basis of a gunship to replace existing AC-130s.
The new aircraft has been developed using company funds in order to meet the USAF’s ambitious target for service entry, though an official acquisition decision memorandum for 68 aircraft has now been issued to replace the older MC-130E and MC-130P and HC-130P aircraft. The overall ‘programme of record’ requirement is for 115 aircraft.
The HC/MC-130J incorporates an in-flight refuelling receiver capability, and is fitted with the 250-kt ramp and cargo door from the KC-130J (and the same air-to-air refuelling pods), the EO/IR imaging system from the HC-130H and the enhanced service life wing (with a 920-lb increased durability wing box modification) from the MC-130H.
The aircraft has a dual display combat systems operator station not found on transport versions of the C-130J.
In order to meet the ambitious IOC date of 2012 (with a minimum of 10 aircraft in service), Lockheed hopes to make the first flight in 2010, with first deliveries following in 2011. Looking beyond the USAF requirement, Lockheed hopes that the aircraft will find export customers. India has already selected a similar variant (based on the longer-fuselage C-130J-30) for special operations support, and other air forces have requirements to beef up their CSAR and special forces capabilities.
Director of programme management Jack O’Bannion was keen to stress that the HC/MC-130J was “complementary to the A400M, not necessarily a competitor”, providing particular capabilities (especially the ability to refuel slow-flying helicopters) that would allow A400M operators to use their Airbus heavy lifters for their primary role.
“The HC/MC-130J sits between the bigger transports and the smaller twins, and has the right combination of range, short/rough/austere strip capability, and payload. Larger transport aircraft lack the ability to operate from sub-standard strips, while smaller aircraft lack the Hercules’ range and payload.” O’Bannion says.
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