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MC-130J Commando II
MC-130J Combat Shadow II
AC-130J Ghostrider

The MC-130J Commando II (originally named Combat Shadow II) was developed as part of a Special Operations Forces Tank Recapitalization Program. The program was intended to fund special operations forces-unique modifications to recapitalize aging MC-130E Combat Talon I, MC-130P Combat Shadow, and AC-130H Spectre airframes. An incremental upgrade approach was to be used to incorporate special operations forces capabilities onto the aircraft.

The MC-130J Commando II is manned by a 5-member crew, a reduction in size from the standard 8-member MC-130P Combat Shadow crew. The MC-130J was developed to replace aging MC-130E Combat Talon I and MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft. With no flight engineer or radio systems operator, the loadmaster could assume many of the duties previously designated to those positions, including the complete preflight and loading of cryptic codes. The loadmaster was also a systems expert.

The HC and MC-130J configurations were based on the proven KC-130J operated by the United States Marine Corps. The capabilities of the KC-130J very closely matched the requirements for HC/MC-130 missions and required very little modification. The KC-130J had already been performing at or above expectations in operational service in Southwest Asia as the tactical tanker for Marine Corps fighters and helicopters. The air-to-air refueling mission of the KC-130J was very similar to the requirements set out by the Air Force for the HC/MC-130 program.

On 13 June 2008, the Department of Defense announced that the the US Air Force was modifying a firm fixed price contract with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Marietta Georgia, not to exceed $470,000,000. This contract modification was an undefinitized contract action for the procurement of 6 FY09 HC/MC-130J aircraft and associated long lead material and non-recurring aircraft production effort using FY08 advance procurement funding. At that time $75,000,000 had been obligated. USAF/AFMC, Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), 657 AESS/PK, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was the contracting activity.

On 1 December 2008, the Department of Defense announced that the US Air Force was modifying a firm-fixed-price contract with time and material and cost reimbursement to the Lockheed Martin Corporation of Marietta, Georgia, for an amount not-to-exceed $74,900,000. This effort was for an Engineering Change Proposal against the 5-year option contract for non-recurring efforts to incorporate Special Operations Forces-unique modifications on the MC-130J configuration. At that time $19,634,000 had been obligated. 657 AESS, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio was the contracting activity.

On 30 April 2009, the Department of Defense announced that the US Air Force was modifying a fixed price contract with Lockheed Martin Corporation of Marietta, Georgia, for $15,840,000. This contract modification would exercise options to purchase the MC-130J unique configuration increment for 6 Global War on Terror aircraft. At that time, the entire amount had been obligated. 657 AESS, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio was the contracting activity.

On 24 August 2009, the Department of Defense announced that Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Marietta, Georgia had been awarded a $30,202,726 modified contract to purchase the quick engine change assemblies for C/KC/BC/HC/MC-130J aircraft and FMS Norway and India aircraft. At that time $31,972,726 had been obligated. Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio was the contracting activity.

On 16 October 2009, the Department of Defense announced that Lockheed Martin Corporation of Marietta, Georgia had been awarded a $827,400,000 contract that would provide for the advance procurement funding for 3 FY10 Air Force C-130J aircraft, 4 FY10 HC-130J aircraft, and 4 FY10 MC-130J aircraft. This option was being established for acquisition of one HC-130J aircraft to be bully funded with FY10 funds. At that time, $8,274,000 had been obligated. 657 AESS/SYKA, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio was the contracting activity.

Work on a Precision Strike Package for the MC-130W began in 2010 to fulfill an urgent combat requirement to rapidly arm and field multi-mission precision strike platforms. The MC-130W Dragon Spear aircraft would provide an armed over-watch capability including sensors, communication systems, precision guided munitions, and a single medium caliber gun. An interim kit had been fielded and funded as February 2010 under a Combat Mission Needs Statement in FY09. It was expected that the MC-130W aircraft would return to their primary mobility role once Precision Strike Package was fielded on recapitalized AC-130H aircraft.

Funding was also requested in 2010 to support systems engineering, analysis, and integration of the baseline Precision Strike Package onto host MC-130J aircraft provided by the US Air Force for AC-130H recapitalization, as well as other SOF airborne platforms. Missions for the AC-130H recap aircraft included, but were not limited to, Close Air Support (CAS), Air Interdiction, Armed Reconnaissance, Escort, and Force Protection - Integrated Base Defense. The Precision Strike Package was designed to be modular, scalable, and platform neutral, and includes mission management, sensors, and weapons.

On 29 July 2010, the new Lockheed Martin HC-130J personnel recovery aircraft took to the air for the first time ever at the company's facility in Marietta, Georgia. Due for delivery to the US Air Force's Air Combat Command in September 2010, the HC-130J was scheduled to reach initial operational capability in 2012. An Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130J variant of this aircraft was expected to fly in early 2011.

Initial training for the MC-130J was conducted by the Air Force Special Operations Training Command's MC-130J training program, but using an EC-130J Commando Solo aircraft. Training sorties were expected to be conducted through the end of Spring 2011, until sufficient MC-130Js were available. Also, by 2011, plans to recapitalize AC-130H aircraft using the Precision Strike Package had been supplanted by plans to instead use the modular kit to provide an optional capability for the MC-130J aircraft. AC-130H aircraft to be recapitalized would be instead be converted to an MC-130J configuration. When the Precision Strike Package was fitted the aircraft would then become AC-130J.

On 19 March 2012, the US Air Force announced that it was changing the name of the MC-130J from Combat Shadow II to Commando II, a name described as one "that honors the Air Commando legacy and capitalizes on the versatility of the aircraft."

On 9 January 2013, the first MC-130J to be converted into Air Force Special Operations Command's newest variant of the gunship, the AC-130J Ghostrider, arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Modifications to the airframe would be completed in 10 months and would be a milestone in the recapitalization of the AC-130H/U fleet. The AC-130J Ghostrider would inherit the AC-130W Stinger II's precision strike package, which was developed to support ground forces in overseas contingency operations. Pairing weapons with a networked battle management system, enhanced communications and situational awareness upgrades the J-Model's ability to deliver surgical firepower. The AC-130J has the speed of the MC-130J, the precision strike capabilities of the AC-130W and carries forward the heritage of the AC-130H/U. As of January 2013, a total of 37 MC-130J prototypes were to be modified as part of a $2.4 billion AC-130J program to grow the future fleet. The first AC-130J was expected to be completed in November 2013 and expected to be ready for initial flight testing by December 2013.

The US Air Force lost one of its brand-spanking-new AC-130J Ghostrider Gunships, which had to be scrapped after a test-flight went wrong: the crew lost control and “momentarily inverted”, losing approximately 5,000ft (1,500 m) of altitude. No one was killed during the crash, but the asset suffered $115 million worth of damage. The US Air Force Materiel Command revealed it had to scrap its highly-modified Super Hercules after it received damage estimated at more than $115 million, as a result of a flight-test failure.

In an Accident Investigation Board report, released in NOvember 2015, it described the incident, which happened during a “medium-risk flying qualities” test set, part of the new AC-130J testing process. “While being operated at roughly 15,000ft, (over 4,500 meters) “the aircraft exceeded the targeted angle of sideslip until it departed controlled flight,” the report states.

It “momentarily inverted, before being recovered after losing approximately 5,000ft (over 1,500 m) of altitude.” The aircraft’s crew fortunately escaped injury, returned to base and landed safely. But the Ghostrider, having exceeded its operating G limits and design load, was a complete write-off.

Investigators attributed the incident to the pilot’s “excessive rudder input during the test point, followed by inadequate rudder input to initiate a timely recovery from high angle of sideslip due to over-controlled/under-controlled aircraft,” along with the “wrong choice of action during an operation.”

The US Air Force Special Operations Command received its first AC-130J at Hurlburt Field AFB in Florida in July 2015, to support testing. Once in frontline use, the model will be equipped with weapons including a 30mm cannon, 105mm cannon and a variety of precision-guided air-to-surface munitions. The service plans to have an operational fleet of 32 by fiscal year 2021, with the initial capability slated for 2017.

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Page last modified: 01-12-2015 19:17:09 ZULU