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MC-130E Combat Talon I
C-130E(C)/(I)/(S)/(Y) Combat Talon

The MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft was developed in the mid-1960s as a replacement for C-123B aircraft used by the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam's Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG or SOG). The C-123 aircraft had been modified under the Heavy Hook Project, originally codenamed Duck Hook, which sought to provide aircraft improved navigation equipment and electronic countermeasures for unconventional missions in southeast Asia. These included agent drops and psychological warfare against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, also known as North Vietnam). SOG was dissatisfied with the capabilities provided by the modified C-123 aircraft and in 1964 asked for a replacement based preferably on the C-130.

At the same time, Lockheed Air Systems, which had carried out the modification of the Heavy Hook C-123Bs, also began modification of 2 C-130E aircraft as part of Project Thin Slice. The exact nature of this program is unclear, but involved the addition of the SPR-3 terrain following radar (later replaced with the APQ-115), APR-25/26 radar detection and homing equipment, and a defensive electronic warfare suite. These aircraft were sanitized for their missions and completely disappeared from any published aircraft inventory.

In 1965, the US Air Force directed the modification of 14 C-130E aircraft still on the Lockheed production line into a modified configuration. These aircraft, initially referred to as C-130E(I), were to be modified to a standard similar, but improved to that of the Heavy Hook C-123s. The modification program was initially codenamed Stray Goose. These aircraft, delivered to the USAF as HC-130s, were modified at the Lockheed-Marietta Georgia facility beginning in December 1965, with the addition of the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system (STARS). The addition of the STARS equipment was standard to HC-130 aircraft of the period. The I in the aircraft's designation stood for "Intercept," a reference to being equipped with the STARS. They were then sent to Lockheed Air Systems for further modifications including the addition of the Project Rivet Clamp equipment. The modification increased the overall length of the aircraft by a foot. The Stray Goose aircraft also had multimode terrain-following/terrain-avoidance radar and a defensive EW suite.

Even with the aircraft already being modified, the Joint Chiefs of Staff remained unconvinced of the need for improved aircraft for unconventional warfare missions in southeast Asia. Not until 31 March 1966, did the JCS notify MACV that it had approved the deployment of 4 of the modified aircraft to US Pacific Command for use in operations. In 1966, the C-130E aircraft modified for Project Thin Slice, which had become Project Heavy Chain, also received a new configuration as part of Project Rivet Yard. Later in 1966, 2 of the Stray Goose aircraft were diverted for further modifications as part of Project Heavy Chain, with the aircraft configuration becoming known as Rivet Yard II.

The nature of the modifications is unclear, but the Heavy Chain aircraft served as testbeds for various new technology, including forward looking infra-red (FLIR) equipment, the High-Speed Low-Level Aerial Delivery System (HSLLADS), and electronic warfare equipment. All 4 aircraft, which flew operations under the Combat Sam codename, were returned to official inventory as C-130E(I)s after Heavy Chain ceased operations in 1972. The original Stray Goose aircraft became commonly referred to as "Clamp" aircraft (a reference to Project Rivet Clamp), while the aircraft coming in from Heavy Chain were referred to as "Yand" aircraft (a similar reference to Project Rivet Yank, which had followed Rivet Yard). The aircraft had officially become known as Combat Talons.

Throughout the conflict in Southeast Asia from 1965 until 1973, C-130E(I) aircraft would fly alone and unescorted to drop leaflets to the enemy, insert special teams deep into North Vietnam or conduct resupply missions. The missions were so secret that crews flying the Operation Stray Goose mission were immediately separated from conventional crews when they arrived in Vietnam at their forward operating bases. The aircraft also participated in Operation Ivory Coast, the raid on the prison camp at Son Tay.

Issues with the APQ-115 terrain following radar, itself a version of the APQ-99 originally designed for the F-4 Phantom fighter, led to the development of a replacement. Lockheed Air Systems developed an improved radar, later designated as the APQ-122(V)8, which was fitted to 2 of the Heavy Chain aircraft in 1970. In 1971, the new radar and additional modifications began to be installed on Combat Talon aircraft. These modified aircraft, referred to as MOD-70, featured the new radar, the Litton LN-15J inertial navigation system, autopilot pitch monitor, improved Doppler and LORAN C navigation equipment, and physical modifications for the HSLLADS. The HSLLADS was not officially cleared for use on the C-130E(I) until 1973.

After the MOD-70 upgrade, the aircraft designations were changed to C-130E(C) for "Clamp" aircraft, C-130E(Y) for "Yank" aircraft, and C-130E(S), for "Swap" aircraft, a designation applied to 2 additional modified C-130Es without the STARS. In early 1977, all the aircraft were officially redesignated as MC-130E Combat Talons. Also in 1977, Combat Talon aircraft in Europe received additional ECM upgrades to provide a standoff electronic defense capability in light of the delays in the EF-111 program.

The MC-130E Combat Talon was also part of Operation Eagle Claw, the abortive attempt to rescue American taken hostage in Iran following the 1979 revolution. Following an order to abort the operation, an accident occurred at a forward refueling point, designated Desert 1, in which an RH-53D aircraft collided with an EC-130E airborne battlefield command, control, and communications aircraft. The debacle resulted in a number of improvements to the operational tactics, techniques, and procedures for special operations aviators, including crews of MC-130E aircraft.

From late December 1989 to early January 1990, Twenty-Third Air Force participated in the re-establishment of democracy in the Republic of Panama during Operation Just Cause. Special operations aircraft included active and Air Force Reserve (AFRES) AC-130 Spectre gunships, EC-130 Volant Solo psychological operations aircraft from the Air National Guard (ANG), HC-130P/N Combat Shadow tankers, MC-130E Combat Talons, and MH-53J Pave Low and MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.

In the early 1990s, the MC-130E fleet began to recieve a new set of modifications, known as MOD-90. The upgrades were varied and included improved ECM and FLIR equipment, the Universal Aerial-Refueling Receptacle/Slipway Installation (along with the SST-181X aerial refueling beacon transmitter), and the replacement of the existing engines with the Allison T56-A-15 turboprops found on C-130H variants. New outer wings had been installed on Combat Talon aircraft in the late 1980s. New center-wing boxes and vertical beams (for the landing gear) were installed as part of the MOD-90 upgrades. Modifications to the cargo ramp and paratroop door allowed their operation at speeds up to 250 KIAS. With the addition of the MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft to the fleet in the 1990s, the MC-130E aircraft were also referred to as Combat Talon I.

As part of Commando Vision, which started in 1994, the 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field, Florida, retired its AC-130A gunships and gained MC-130P Combat Shadows, flown by the newly stood-up 5th Special Operations Squadron, and MC-130E Combat Talons, flown by the 711th Special Operations Squadron. Throughout FY95 they coverted from AC-130A Gunships to MC-130E Combat Talons, with the last AC-130A Gunship retired 1 October 1995. Their mission changed from close air support, armed reconnaissance, and armed interdiction to Air Refueling and Special Operations Support.

During Desert Storm, the MC-130E Combat Talon I played a vital role. One third of all airdrops in the first 3 weeks of the war were performed by MC-130s. The aircraft flew multiple missions air-dropping and dispersing leaflets. Its primary role was psychological operations, but it also served as the delivery platform for the BLU-82/B bomb, of which 11 were dropped. The aircraft also had a secondary role conducting combat search and rescue. Following the Persian Gulf war, MC-130s flew extensively in support of Operation Provide Comfort.

The MC-130E Talon aircraft was equipped for leaflet-drop PSYOP missions, but in Bosnia during the mid-1990s, however, most such operations were conducted by helicopter aviation.

Against the backdrop of Kenya, a country known for its wild game preserves and scenic beauty, a contingent of 100 airmen from Duke Field, Florida, trained in Natural Fire 2000, a humanitarian and civic assistance exercise. The joint/combined exercise began on 4 May 2000 and involved several branches of the US military along with the East African countries of Tanzania and Uganda. US Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, was in charge of the American forces. MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft belonging to Air Force Reserve Command's 919th Special Operations Wing along with active-duty personnel and reservists supported the missions. The total force contingent returned home in late May 2000.

On 5 February 2000, the 8th Special Operations Squadron and 716th Maintenance Squadron transferred 26 miles from Hurlburt Field, Florida, to Duke Field to serve with Air Force Reserve Command's 919th Special Operations Wing. With the move, the squadrons, which had called Hurlburt home for 26 years, together became the Air Force's only active associate unit. The active duty also transferred 6 MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft to the Reserve, adding them to the 8 MC-130Es already owned by the 919th Special Operations Wing and flown by the 711th Special Operations Squadron.

The MC-130E has an improved terrain following/terrain avoidance radar with increased MTBF. The lack of spares and repairable assemblies for the existing system complicated the management of it. An upgrade was seen as having the potential to significantly increase the reliability and maintainability of the APQ-122 by increasing the MTBF to 40 hours. The acquisition strategy was to award a sole source contract to Raytheon.

The Air Force's CV-22 was being developed to replace the entire MH-53J Pave Low fleet, and several other Air Force Special Operations aircraft in service, including the MC-130E Combat Talon I.

Following the events of 11 September 2001, MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft, along with MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft, deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.




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