The Royal Air Force is considering buying a forward looking infrared (FLIR) navigation system for up to six of its Lockheed C-130K Hercules transports, likely to be intended for covert missions by its special forces flight.

Marshall Aerospace will be the prime contractor for installing the uncooled 8-14,000 nanometre FLIR system, which has yet to be selected by the RAF. A decision is likely by the end of the year. US Air Force covert mission MC-130E aircraft have a Texas Instruments AAQ-15 forward looking infrared system in a retractable turret.

The proposal also covers the design and development of the system and its in-service support. The RAF's requirement is initially for one aircraft; if this is successful a further five aircraft will follow.

The RAF's special forces flight uses passive night goggles as its primary aid to flying low level night missions. FLIR systems are particularly useful for covert missions when they are combined with passive night goggles.

The equipment would be particularly useful for combat search and rescue missions, allowing a downed pilot to signal his location to the search aircraft and simplify approaches to landing zones.

The UK Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the role of FLIR-equipped C-130s, but the number of systems ordered matches the number of special forces optimised aircraft in RAF service.

Source: Flight International