The United States Marine Corps has chosen the KC-130J tanker to replace its aging KC-130F tanker fleet. The new KC-130J offers increased utility and much needed improvement in mission performance. As a force multiplier, the J tanker is capable of refueling both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft as well as conducting rapid ground refueling.
The KC-130J is a Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) aircraft currently in production. The new KC-130J, with its increase in speed and range, improved air-to-air refueling system, night systems, and survivability enhancements, will provide the MAGTF commander with a state-of-the-art, multimission, tactical aerial refueler/transport well into the 21st century.
The refueling speed envelope has been widened from 100 to 270 knots indicated airspeed, offering more capability and flexibility. Offload rates per refueling pod can be up to 300 gallons / 2,040 lbs (1,135 liters / 925 kg) per minute simultaneously. The J tanker's offload is significantly greater than previous Herc tankers. As an example, at 1,000 nautical miles, the fuel offload is well over 45,000 lbs. Rapid ground refueling is also a premium capability. In austere conditions/scenarios, the KC-130J can refuel helicopters, vehicles, and fuel caches at 600 gallons / 4,080 lbs (2,270 liters / 1,850 kg) per minute. Additionally, the unique prop feathering capability while the engines are still running ("HOTEL Mode") offers safer and more hospitable conditions for ground refueling than in the past.
The new KC-130J, with its increase in speed, range, improved air-to-air refueling system, night systems, and survivability enhancements, will provide the MAGTF commander with a state-of-the art, multimission, tactical aerial refueler/transport well into the 21st century. The KC-130J aircraft is a medium sized transport and tanker with capability for intra-theater and inter-theater airlift and aerial refueling operations. It also retains the capability for worldwide delivery of combat troops, personnel, and cargo by airdrops or airland to austere, bare-base sites. The KC-130J is capable of day, night, and adverse weather operations.
The KC-130J has improvements of up to 50 percent in fuel offload capability over existing USMC KC-130s, on some missions. The KC-130J is capable of in-flight refueling of both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. The fuel system is a common cross-ship manifold that serves as a refueling system, a fuel supply crossfeed, a ground refueling system, and a fuel jettisoning system. The KC-130J has a 57,500 pound (8,455 U.S. gallons) fuel offload capacity using wing fuel and external tanks. The aircraft also has the capability to carry an additional 24,392 pounds (3,600 U.S. gallons) of fuel in a specially configured internal fuselage tank. The tanker's standard probe-and-drogue configuration is suited for refueling both helicopters and jet aircraft. Internal provisions for its own refueling probe provide the KC-130J with even greater flexibility if required in the future. Since the system operates more effectively without the fuselage tank, the cargo compartment can be used for cargo more often.
The heart of the new KC-130J is the Flight Refueling Ltd. (FRL) Mark32B-901E aerial refueling system. It features microprocessor-controlled, electrically driven hose reel units ensuring improved reliability, fuel flow, and receiver compatibility over previous KC-130 systems. The FRL system allows fuel delivery pressure and flow rates to be adjusted at the hose end to better suit various receivers, while ram air turbine-driven fuel boost pumps in each pod improve fuel off-load performance.
The KC-130J provides rapid logistic support to operating forces. It can be configured to provide transportation of personnel or cargo. Delivery of cargo may be accomplished by parachute, low level fly-by ground extraction, or landing. As a tactical transport, the KC-130J can carry 92 ground troops or 64 paratroopers and equipment. It can be configured as a medical evacuation platform capable of carrying 74-litter patients plus attendants. The KC-130J can land and takeoff on short runways and can be used on primitive landing strips in advanced base areas. The KC-130J is also capable of providing mission support in emergency evacuation of personnel and key equipment, advanced party reconnaissance, and special warfare operations.
The KC-130J major enhancements include advanced, two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics, MIL-STD 1553B data bus architecture, color multifunctional liquid crystal displays, and head-up displays. Additional enhancements include state-of-the-art navigation systems with dual embedded Global Positioning System, Inertial Navigation System, mission planning system, low power color radar, digital map display, and new digital autopilot.
With its Allison AE2100D3 engines and Dowty six-bladed composite propellers, the KC-130J has 30 percent greater thrust than previous models and enjoys a 20 knot increase in refueling speed. The combination of the C-130J's increased altitude and speed not only makes the KC-130J a more efficient tanker; it increases the efficiency of the refueling operation. The new propulsion system decreases the KC-130J's time to climb to altitude by 24 percent, and it allows tactical commanders greater flexibility through reduced runway length requirements
The KC-130J incorporates extensive Built-In Test (BIT) integrated diagnostics with an advisory, caution, and warning system. All KC-130J aircraft will come equipped with the Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) system. Currently, C-130 structural life tracking system is based upon a "forms tracking" method which uses mail-in reports to gather data. A specific g-load tracking system does not exist in current in-service C-130 aircraft which forces fleet operators to rely upon qualitative estimates to report g loads. This method of tracking service life experience tends to force structural engineers to adopt conservative estimates of remaining service life to assure the safety of fleet operators. SHM will allow a fully automated and accurate tracking of the structural condition of the KC-130J aircraft after each flight which will facilitate precise determination of service life and inspection requirements, thus decreasing life cycle costs.
Beginning in FY96, the USAF started procuring the C-130J as the replacement for the their older C-130E and C-130H. The US Marine Corps (USMC) initially received five KC-130Js through an ECP to the USAF contract. The USMC KC-130J is scheduled to replace the KC-130F model aircraft. When delivered in 2000, these Hercules replaced KC-130s that had served since 1960. The initial procurement of five KC-130Js replaced the oldest F models. These KC-130Js were assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Training Squadron (VMGRT)-253 at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina. By January 1999, thanks to Congressional support with plus-ups during the previous three years, the Marines were able to procure seven KC-130J aircraft to begin replacing the significantly less capable KC-130F Hercules refueling aircraft. Others questioned the KC-130J plus-ups, but for the Marine Corps those plus-ups were critical to the health of the KC-130 fleet. While the KC-130 has operated for nearly twice its planned service life, DoD topline constraints have precluded budgeting for additional required replacements.
President Clinton's Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 defense budget Procurement funded two Marine Corps KC-130J tankers. As of mid-2000 there were eight KC-130Js on order, and Congress had approved the procurement of two more in its FY '01 budget for the Marine Corps. The Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, FY 2001, as reported by the House Appropriations Committee, included $76 million for one additional KC-130J tanker aircraft, one aircraft more than the President�s request. Three aircraft were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001. Once placed on contract, these aircraft will bring the Marine Corps KC-130J order to 11 aircraft. At least 51 KC-130Js will be needed to replace the USMC's current fleet of aging KC-130F/Rs, a number of which have been in service since the early 1960s. Additional procurements in future years are planned, but no schedule has been established.
The KC-130J Developmental and Operational Tests were completed by Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems (LMAS). The Qualification Operational Test and Evaluation (QOT&E;) was conducted at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, in late FY00 through late FY01. June 9, 2000, was a red-and-gold letter day the first KC-130J tanker for the U. S. Marine Corps was flown for the first time.
The KC-130J will support US Marine Corps 21st Century expeditionary operations. Joint Vision 2010 (JV 2010) delineates the need for increased strategic responsiveness and tactical mobility, particularly during near simultaneous Major Theater War (MTW) scenarios, Small Scale Contingencies (SSC), Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), as well as emerging operational scenarios. The Department of Defense (DOD) has increasing requirements for rapid deployments of MAGTF assets across a broad spectrum of operational areas and environments. The KC-130J will operate in and out of various intermediate and advance bases, and will be a critical piece in the MAGTF commanders ability to project power forward. Therefore, the entire spectrum of conflict, from peacekeeping to major theater war, must be considered and addressed within the Concept of Employment [COE]. The Concept of Employment serves as a reference document for operators, and stimulates dialogue on new tactics and support concepts required for the KC-130J. The COE provides operational commanders and Service Staffs increased understanding of the KC-130Js impact on joint/service doctrine, OPLANS, and force structure. The COE provides acquisition/requirements personnel with increased awareness of KC-130J performance and capability requirements. The COE uses various employment scenarios and tactical vignettes to highlight KC-130J employment concepts. The tactics and employment concepts used in these vignettes are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be inferred as the optimum or �approved� solutions to any given tactical situation. The employment concept of the 2015 Marine Expeditionary Brigade is used as the basis of analysis. The target audience includes DOD agencies, industry, Congress, the C-130 community and the Marine Corps. The KC-130J COE addresses all KC-130 missions. The COE includes mission planning, mission execution, and all aspects of support from doctrine, organization, training and education, support and facilities, to maintenance. The COE also addresses the operational issues surrounding the integration and employment of the KC-130J, but also non-operational tasks such as maintenance and logistics. The goal is to provide users and the supporting establishment with a comprehensive look at the capabilities and employment of this versatile platform. The KC-130J COE is consistent with existing transitional aircraft COE�s.
The new KC-130J aerial refueling system was not qualified because of flight safety and operational performance problems during testing. There were incidents of pull-offs where the refueling hose disengaged from the aircraft being refueled. This problem caused a one-year slip in testing from the original schedule. The new refueling system was replaced by the existing (legacy) system used on the KC-130T. Legacy pods will be installed in the near-term. However, the legacy pods will be upgraded and installed after developmental and operational testing is completed. The upgraded pods will contain a Rapid Ground Refueling port and reliability enhancements. They will be integrated into the aircraft mission computer, which will be produced and retrofitted onto existing KC-130J and incorporated into production aircraft starting in October 2004.
On Sept. 20, 2004, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, accepted Miramar's first KC-130 J aircraft from the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Aerospace. once the transition for active Marine units is completed to the new variant, Marine reservists will use the KC-130 T models.
Originally, the Air Force was going to train the Marine Corps on the new model, but the Marine Corps leaped ahead of them in training. Pilots, loadmasters and crew chiefs assigned to operated the aircraft will have to go to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, for two to three months of classroom and simulator training. After the schooling, the aircrew will then need another three months of practice flying the J model before they are considered proficient.