MC-X Commando Spirit
SOF Future Aircraft

Air Force Special Operations Command [AFSOC] is looking at a replacement for its MC-130 to complement the V-22 in the years beyond 2010 with a project called the MC-X. A potential special operations stealth airlifter, the MC-X, was the subject of a McDonnell Douglas study undertaken by the USAF completed in 1997. The primary focus of the study is infrared (IR) and radar cross section, and powerplant and propulsion systems for airlifters.

A new study of potential replacements of the C-130 transports, tankers and gunships began in 2002. Characteristics for the new MC-X aircraft, which would be smaller than the C-130, include three pallet positions, stealth, high-subsonic speeds, improved maneuverability, short or vertical takeoff and landing, and the ability to fly long range missions.

This program funds RDT&E of an advanced technology aircraft capable of meeting Special Operations Forces [SOF] long-range airlift requirements. It will provide exfiltration capability on missions exceeding the effective range of SOF vertical lift aircraft (including the CV-22) and additionally serves as a replacement for MC-130 Combat Talon Fleet in long-range infiltration and resupply roles. It builds upon future SOF aircraft studies. The system should be able to self-deploy (2400nm), Combat Radius (1000nm), STOL w/max fuel and 4000 lbs on standard day @ sea level (1500ft over 50 ft obstacle), VTOL w/4000lbs @ mid-mission point (4000ft/85 degrees F), High speed (250-400ktas) night adverse weather capable, low to moderate signature, have a system reliability of 92% with an 85% fix rate (4hrs), capable of performing clandestine missions, carrier operations, and with a survivable ground environment under hovering aircraft.

A primary lift system to accomplish this could be a stealth airlifter, since surprise is critical to success in SOF precision operations. Primary attributes that need to be incorporated into the stealth airlifter are low observability, high speed, long range, global reach, increased payload, reliability, and durability. This new airlifter could also possess vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), armament, and an array of emission support sensors.

M-X Advanced Special Operations Forces (SOF) Air Mobility Platform

AFSOC has worldwide responsibility for the Special Operations Forces (SOF) Mobility mission area, which includes rapid, global airlift and recovery of personnel and equipment through hostile or denied airspace to conduct special clandestine operations. AFSOC's capabilities must accommodate all operational and physical environments, especially at night, at low altitude, in adverse weather, and over all terrain.

Historically, SOF's niche has been to go where no one else can go, do what no one else can do, and return undetected. The exponentially increasing capabilities and arrays of threats to aircraft and ground forces will make this a difficult niche in which to maintain a robust capability in the 2018-2030 timeframe.

By 2018, for instance, AFSOC believes that a new capability, the M-X, will be required to provide the President and the Secretary of Defense a full range/spectrum of options for employment of SOF. The M-X is envisioned to provide SOF with an enhanced air mobility capability in denied or hostile airspace. It should be able to conduct undetected infiltration/exfiltration (infil/exfil) penetration of sophisticated integrated air defense systems, and possess the speed/range/defensive systems to survive if detected.

This enables SOF to be airlifted deep into and out of defended airspace and provides SOF the critical element of tactical surprise by reducing the time between detection, target engagement, and exfiltration. Minimizing time between detection and SOF actions is key to successful special operations and reduces the time enemy forces have to counter SOF operations.

The M-X needs to have "agility in the objective area". USTOL over a 50-foot obstacle, is desired, and VTOL, at mid-mission weights or better is highly desired. The V/USTOL capability gives SOF greater freedom of operations to take off and land in austere locations and objective areas closer to SOF targets. This also reduces the need for additional force protection assets and extended cross-country maneuver vehicles to support SOF operations. The V/USTOL capability reduces SOF?s dependence on large runways and the need for two-stage operations where troops or equipment are transferred to or from rotary-wing to fixed-wing aircraft.

The future M-X should have greater speed and range than current aircraft to rapidly deploy SOF anywhere, anytime. The M-X represents new capabilities and is not intended to be a ?follow-on? C-130-type aircraft. The M-X should fill the SOF niche described above by greatly exceeding the capabilities of the MC-130 and CV-22, not replacing either. It is intended that the M-X will be part of a Family of Aircraft designed to fill a variety of missions requiring low detectability and/or high survivability such as advanced cargo transport, advanced tanker, and future gunship.

By the proposed M-X IOC date of 2018, the assumption is all MH-53 aircraft are retired and the existing fleet of MC-130 and CV-22 aircraft will be supplemented by a TBD number of M-X aircraft. In general, the MC-130/CV-22 aircraft will accomplish operations in lightly defended and/or permissive airspace, and the M-X aircraft will accomplish operations in moderate to highly defended and/or non-permissive airspace.

Key M-X design considerations include: 1) In-flight refuel capability so it can conduct operations anywhere in the world within 48 hours when staged from bases in the US; 2) Maximize payload size and weight; 3) high probability of zero detection by an Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) for both airland and airdrop missions; 4) high probability of surviving threat system engagements if detected; 5) high reliability to insure mission completion without intermediate stops for maintenance; 6) high cruise speeds at altitude and low level, MC-130H speeds at the minimum, airliner speeds preferred; 7) high probability of successful take-off and landing on unimproved landing areas and ability to turn around on the ground in minimum distance; 8) fully interoperable with Integrated Broadcast Service (IBS) Command and Control Information Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C2ISR); and 9) fully compatible with current and projected National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) products and capabilities.

In May 2003, HQ AFSOC awarded a contract [FA0021-03-RFI-0001] to the Unified and Special Operations Group of Jacobs Sverdrup Technology, Inc., to conduct an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) for an Advanced Special Operations Forces (SOF) Air Mobility Platform. The Government requested each respondent provide sufficient technical and cost related information so the viability of each alternative or design can be fully considered. Technical information included shape, weight, range, speed, payload (weight and cube), offensive and defensive avionic subsystems and their performance assessments, communication/situational awareness subsystems, detectability characteristics (Radar Cross Section (RCS), IR, visible, ultraviolet, audibility), Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) / Ultra-Short Take-off and Landing (USTOL) characteristics, landing zone performance, all estimated mission and system reliability / maintainability / human factors performance, and obsolescence projections.

Respondents were required to identify the representative infil / exfil missions and concept of operations where the proposed design would be successful, or most successful. Identify an acquisition strategy (RDT&E, Procurement, and Military Construction) and sustainment strategy (O&S) to include cost, schedule, and technical risks to reach an IOC in 2018. For this RFI only, respondents calculated development costs, production costs (to include learning curves and first units), operating and support costs, disposition costs, and other costs in terms of a 20 year operational life and the following total quantities: 10, 25, 50, 100.

The analysis of alternatives, completed in September 2004, pointed to an advanced low-observable manned aircraft as the most promising option.

By mid-2005 the requirements for a stealthy transport aircraft for special operations forces had been approved by the US warfighter community. The Advanced Special Operations Forces Air Mobility Platform (M-X) will undergo a senior-level Department of Defense review to authorise Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) to solicit industry teams to begin early developmental activities for an aircraft that would enter service in 2018.

The M-X is envisaged as a vertical- or ultra-short- take-off and landing platform for clandestine transport of troops and supplies into and out of heavily defended hostile territory in all terrains and environmental conditions. The aircraft will augment, but not replace, AFSOC's fleet of MC-130 Combat Talon and CV-22 aircraft. Its agility and hard-to-detect infra-red, radar and acoustic signatures and low- probability-of-intercept communications signals will allow it to overcome sophisticated enemy sensors and surface-to-air missiles that might doom even upgraded MC-130s and CV-22s.

Reduced overseas basing and anti-access/area denial strategies drive the need for a high-speed, long-range air mobility platform capable of performing clandestine missions in denied, politically sensitive, or hostile airspace. The M-X will be designed to defeat sophisticated integrated air defense systems with low-observable/stealth design technology combined with advanced air defense systems electronic countermeasures for increased survivability.

The M-X needs "agility in the objective area" which means it must be able to accomplish short take-off and landings and/or hover at medium heights. The declining capability of the aging SOF C-130 fleet to penetrate deep into sophisticated hostile airspace beyond 2015 adds emphasis to this program. The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review report specifically states "Special Operations Forces will need the ability to conduct covert deep insertions over great distances."

The next 25 years will see the proliferation of infrared (IR), radar-guided, and directed energy (DE) threats that will render many existing aircraft obsolete by the end of this period. Between DE and radar-guided threats current AFSOF [Air Force special operations forces] aircraft will have survivability challenges in the years 2016 and beyond. This evolving threat has the potential to significantly challenge the capability for Special Operations Forces (SOF) to achieve tactical surprise through clandestine air mobility due to the increasing technological capability of passive aircraft detection at further distances.

IR man-portable surface-to-air missiles, already a significant hazard to AFSOC aircraft, will be an increasingly dangerous threat as more capable missile systems with advanced counter-countermeasures proliferate. Furthermore, the traditional AFSOC tactic of avoiding MANPADS [man-portable air defense system] by operating mostly at night will become less effective as America's enemies acquire more night vision devices.

Emerging as a serious threat to AFSOF aircraft, the technology in radar-guided missiles is rapidly improving. Systems like the SA-10, SA-11, SA-12, and SA-20 (formerly SA-10C) are formidable systems capable of engaging targets at long ranges and at low altitudes. Recent articles in military journals describe the next generation of Russian-designed missile systems having ranges of over 240 nautical miles, altitude capability down to 1-meter above the ground level at those distances, and the capability of outmaneuvering most aircraft. Many of today's missiles and most future radar missiles will incorporate various types of anti-jamming technologies, which make them difficult to defeat.

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