- June 16, 2008, 11:51 AM
Production of the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules has been assured for many years to come, thanks to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (SOC). The unit has ordered a new version, designated HC/MC-130J, to replace its existing fleet of HC-130s and MC-130s used for combat search and rescue and special forces operations. Last week, Lockheed Martin received a contract for the first six aircraft, with another eight to follow soon. The Air Force already has approval to acquire 54 more, but the SOC has stated a total requirement of 115. The current SOC fleet is more than 40 years old and is flying at a high operational tempo in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. A Lockheed Martin spokesman told AIN that the new version would be similar to the KC-130J tanker/transport versions already being produced for the U.S. Marine Corps, with the addition of an EO/IR imaging system in a chin turret; a combat systems operator station; enhanced defensive systems; and an aerial refueling receptacle above the forward fuselage. Before opting for the HC/MC-130J, the SOC sought information on potential alternatives, including the Airbus A400M. But an Airbus Military official told AIN recently that the A400M “was probably too big, and could not be delivered in time.” The SOC wants to achieve initial operating capability for the new aircraft in 2012.