Naval News asked USSOCOM how “Realistic” the MC-130J Amphibious Capability or MAC concept is.
The MC-130J “Commando II” is the latest version of the venerable Lockheed Martin C-130 “Hercules” transport plane. The J-variant has improved performance over its C-130E/H predecessors, such as 40% greater range, 21% higher maximum speed, and 41% shorter takeoff distance, and the J-variant can come in standard C-130 length or stretched out by adding 15 more feet (4.6 meters) to the fuselage and calling it the C-130J-30. The C-130J can best be differentiated from the C-130E/H predecessors by the curved propeller blades, distinct and unique to the J-variant for better turboprop performance.
The USSOCOM special forces MC-130J is further modified from the standard C-130J variant with “special forces’ mission-specific government furnished equipment” and other unique and custom modifications.
“The C-130J-SOF variant builds on our proven C-130J platform and features an EO/IR [Electro-Optical/Infrared] Imaging System for ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance], upgraded 60/90 KVA Generators and 400 AMP regulated transformer rectifier units (RTRU) that doubles the electrical capacity of the aircraft. The extra power supports future mission requirements, by providing growth provisions for tanker/receiver refueling and armed ISR. Changes to the baseline C-130J include the addition of an armor protection system and lower fuselage protection for damage tolerance; added crew position stations for a combat system operator (CSO) and scanner, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) out; and external fuel tanks for increased range/loiter time.
“The MC-130J Commando II multi-mission combat transport/special operations tanker, assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), delivers increased combat performance to the warfighter with its more powerful engines and unique features. As it replaces the older MC-130N/P Combat Shadow II aircraft, the MC-130J provides AFSOC with a modern aircraft capable of worldwide employment for missions requiring clandestine single- or multi-ship low-level aerial refueling of Special Operation Force vertical and tilt-rotor aircraft and/or infiltration, resupply and exfiltration by airdrop, or landing on remote airfields.”
— Lockheed Martin C-130J and MC-130J pages
USSOCOM responds to Naval News
U.S. Navy Commander Tim Hawkins, USSOCOM spokesperson, responded to Naval News on the status of this concept within SOCOM via email:
“MC-130J Amphibious Capability, or “MAC” as we call it, is a concept we are exploring. The MAC concept involves being able to modify the aircraft and give it the capability to take off and land both on the ground and water – all in the same mission. This is a challenging physics and engineering proposition, so SOCOM is currently working with industry on feasibility and operational studies as well as digital designs in order to determine the best path forward on capability development,”
USSOCOM didn’t provide further details, such as if other branch services such as the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, or U.S. Coast Guard are interested in joint-development and joint-funding of this project. Since the MC-130J “Commando II” is a specific USSOCOM fixed wing asset with mission systems only used by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), USSOCOM appears to be “going it alone” at this time with the amphibious MAC concept. SOCOM also didn’t provide an estimated date as to initial MAC prototype rollout, testing, and eventual AFSOC fielding.
Naval News Comments
According to the United States Geological Survey, approximately 71-percent of the Earth is covered by water so having an amphibious MC-130J would be a great benefit and advantage to improve USSOCOM mobility (and that of the other U.S. and NATO users of the C-130J).
A few nations already use in-service seaplanes such as Russia, China, and Japan. Most of them seem to incorporate the use of a seaplane hull instead of buoyant floats.
If the MAC is built, the emphasis on MAC’s amphibious mobility cannot be understated for USSOCOM and the special forces, especially regarding any potential overseas crisis and conflicts in the littorals, around islands, in gulfs, in the Arctic waters, and in the vast ocean where land can be few and far away. SOCOM MC-130Js have been used to drop rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and commandos from the air, and with the MAC, RHIBs, divers, small boats and hovercraft, minisubs, unmanned sea and subsurface drones, underwater sensors, and jetskis might be able to be deployed and retrieved via the stern ramp of floating amphibious AFSOC MC-130Js. MACs can also act as floating refueling bases, able appear anywhere in the oceans to refuel thirsty sea vessels.
If used by conventional forces, convoy escorts with a long-endurance U.S. seaplane might become a reality again, as would more versatile patrols; more flexible Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare patrols; more mobile logistics; expanded fleet repair; a land and sea mothership for unmanned air, surface, and sub-surface drones, a ISR pursuit aircraft in the Drug War, a Visual Board Search and Seizure floating base, an airborne Amphibious Expeditionary Forward Staging Base and refueler, and a Search and Rescue seaplane to name several new MAC role examples.
Details on the amphibious MC-130J presented at Virtual SOFIC 2021 are in the nascent stages. USSOCOM didn’t state on if there are plans for an amphibious armed AC-130J, or on how many MACs SOCOM intends to build and acquire.