View Full Version : Armed Tankers in Afghanistan by November

09-20-2009, 01:50 PM
Armed KC-130Js in Afghanistan by November

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Sep 20, 2009 9:46:24 EDT

The first KC-130J tanker capable of providing close-air support for Marine ground units should be in Afghanistan by November, officials said.

Loaded with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment — and armed with wing-mounted Hellfire missiles — the souped-up aircraft will get its first go at a simulated close-air support mission during an exercise next month at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., a key benchmark before it’s ready to head downrange.

Known as Harvest Hawk, the program is still in the developmental testing phase, but Marine officials say that other than a few minor issues, such as software glitches, everything is going smoothly.

The first aircraft was originally expected in theater by the end of the summer, a timeline Marine officials already knew was “very aggressive,” but it was bumped back to this fall as the new system was integrated into the aircraft and some of those minor issues surfaced, said Maj. J.P. Pellegrino, the KC-130 requirements officer at Marine Corps headquarters.

The ISR/munitions kits are removable, and eventually an MK44 Bushmaster II 30mm cannon will be incorporated. But for now, Marine officials are focusing on the Target Sight System — a long-range electro-optical surveillance, detection and identification capability mounted on the outside of the aircraft — and the Hellfire missiles because those components were easier to integrate with the aircraft, Pellegrino said.

“We didn’t want the whole system to be held up because it will take a little longer to get through the integration and test phase [for the cannon],” he said. “We wanted to get it out to the war fighter. The beauty of the system is that it’s modular so when the cannon is ready, it just rolls onto the airplane.”

In the coming weeks, a Harvest Hawk KC-130J will test its new capabilities during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course at Yuma. There will be air controllers and other Marines on the ground, and additional Marine aircraft practicing air support, Pellegrino said. Virtually every aviation platform in the Corps participates in the course, he said.

But before the Harvest Hawk program can take part in the weapons tactics course, it must complete developmental testing. And that’s getting close.

On Sept. 7 officials confirmed after five days of tests that the Hellfire missiles would not accidentally explode if a member of the aircrew or someone on the ground used an unfamiliar radio frequency, Pellegrino said. Another key milestone, firing the missiles, is slated for Sept. 20.

Refueling will remain the tanker’s primary mission, even when the weapons system is onboard, but the Corps expects these Harvest Hawk KC-130Js to provide 10 to 12 hours of overhead ISR and close-air support if needed.

The Corps plans to put two kits on aircraft in Afghanistan and keep one stateside for training, Pellegrino said. Officials want to buy nine kits in all, with three going to each of the three active-duty KC-130J squadrons.