Special Ops MC-130W ‘Dragon Spear’ Is a New Force

 - June 6, 2011, 5:08 AM
The “Dragon Spear” conversion of U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130W special mission aircraft incorporates a new 30mm chain gun. (Photo: Moog Inc.)

The “Dragon Spear” conversion of U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130W special mission aircraft, incorporating a new 30-mm chain gun and other enhancements, has given the command a lethal gunship.

Twelve MC-130Ws are being converted from “Combat Spear” configuration with a retrofit precision strike package that includes upgraded sensors, a sensor operator console, precision-guided munitions and customized ATK Mk44 Bushmaster II 30-mm gun mounted on the port side.

The role of the MC-130W Combat Spear is to infiltrate, exfiltrate and resupply U.S. and allied special ops forces. The four-engine turboprop also serves as an aerial tanker for refueling special ops helicopters and the CV-22 tiltrotor. The Dragon Spear, specified by a Fiscal Year 2009 Combat Mission Need Statement as an urgent requirement, is considered an interim step to the coming Lockheed Martin AC-130J gunship, and as relief for the current AC-130 gunship fleet.

The rapidly fielded gunship also is being portrayed by the military as a proof of a more “agile” and flexible acquisition process.

A Joint Acquisition Task Force was created to field the Dragon Spear. The Air Force last September awarded L-3 TCS, of Warner Robins, Ga., a $61 million contract to convert eight MC-130Ws, with an option for four more.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia, part of the Naval Sea Systems Command, was tasked with improving the aircraft’s 25-mm, hydraulically activated gun turret. It looked to replace that with the Mk46 gun turret used on U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles and Navy LPD 17 amphibious transport dock ships. Working with NSWC Dahlgren, Moog, of East Aurora, N.Y., supplied a precision, electromechanical drive system coupled with fire-control algorithms that were incorporated in the Dahlgren fire-control system.

Moog delivered prototype drive system hardware and software within six months of being awarded a contract in the second quarter 2010. The company shipped its last shipset to Dahlgren in March, said Michael Baczkowski, group vice president of the Moog defense sector.

“Because of the weight, performance and center-of-gravity issues with the Mk46 turret drive system, they asked us to do a custom design, a bespoke design, if you would,” Baczkowski said. “The 12 production systems that we shipped were custom designed for that airborne application.”

Baczkowski said the fire-control team had to overcome challenges in managing the gun’s recoil, and in maintaining its accuracy with both the recoil and aerodynamic loading. He said the gun provides an order of magnitude improvement in accuracy over its 25-mm predecessor.