One of the Air Force’s largest planes helped carry out all major special operations missions from Vietnam
Since the mid-1960s, the Air Force has used the MC-130 to support special operations missions around the world.
The Air Force is currently deploying the MC-130J model, and it will remain important as special operators adjust to new challenges.
“The MC-130 is a very versatile and flexible aircraft,” a former Air Force officer and Combat pilot Talon told Insider.
The US military has thousands of aircraft capable of launching attacks and supporting conventional operations, from futuristic F-35 and F-22 fighters to venerable A-10 and AC-130 close air support aircraft.
When it comes to supporting special operations units, the MC-130 has a vital, albeit little-known, role.
Variants of the MC-130 have participated in every major and minor US military campaign since the Vietnam War, supporting special operations units in some of the largest commando missions.
Early versions of the aircraft flew in the rescue of prisoners from Son Tay in North Vietnam in 1970. Ten years later, the MC-130s participated in Operation Eagle Claw, the failure of the mission to rescue American hostages held in Iran.
The MC-130s were also part of the first major Delta Force and Ranger mission in Afghanistan in 2001, and an MC-130 was the first plane to land at Baghdad International Airport after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
From the jungles of Vietnam
During the Vietnam War, the Air Force began to experiment with the use of a large transport aircraft to support large commando operations. Helicopters couldn’t lift that much and fly that far.
Vietnam Military Assistance Command – Studies and Observation (MACV-SOG), a secret force that has carried out missions behind enemy lines, specifically needed the ability to support its reconnaissance teams who passed through the fence.
Comprised of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines and air commandos, the SOG conducted covert operations in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and North Vietnam, where US troops were not supposed to be.
The introduction of the MC-130 allowed the SOG to be more effective in its covert war in Southeast Asia. The air commandos who flew the plane were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their performance, which paved the way for a mission that continues almost 70 years later.
A workaholic for special operations
The MC-130 fleet of approximately 60 aircraft is the backbone of Air Force Special Operations Command’s fixed-wing force.
The latest version, the MC-130J Commando II, specializes in infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations units in semi-permissive or non-permissive areas.
It can also support psychological operations – drop leaflets and broadcast messages – and provide air-to-air refueling to special operations helicopters.
Each Commando II costs $ 114 million and is operated by a crew of five air commandos. It can carry up to 164,000 pounds up to 3,000 miles without refueling. It also has significant external and internal upgrades over previous versions.
It has new engines 25% more powerful than those of the previous model, known as the Combat Talon. Internally, the Commando II has state-of-the-art electronic and digital navigation systems that can be operated by the same operator, meaning it needs less crew than previous versions of the MC-130.
The MC-130 can fly up to 250 feet in inclement weather conditions using its powerful terrain tracking and terrain avoidance radar system, the AN / APQ-187 Silent Knight. This means that in the right hands, the aircraft can perform siesta flights to avoid detection by enemy radar and anti-aircraft systems.
“The MC-130 is a very versatile and flexible aircraft that can accomplish a wide range of special operations missions,” a former Air Force officer and Combat pilot Talon told Insider.
“You will rarely see or hear about the plane and the men who fly it. We are not as sexy as our AC-130 [gunship] colleagues, whom your audience may be familiar with, ”said the former officer.
“Nonetheless, we are fulfilling an important mission – transporting and supplying special operations forces anywhere in the world. We do not break down any doors, but we allow special operators in the field to strike them.”
Adapt for the future
The Air Force has started to withdraw the -E, -H and -P versions from the MC-130 fleet and plans to replace them completely with the MC-130J by 2025. The designation “Combat Talon”, active since 1977 , will also be retired.
But the MC-130 will remain an important asset as US special operators adapt to new challenges. One of the key roles of Commando II will be that of forward armament and supply point (FARP).
During FARP operations, an MC-130 can refuel and rearm special operations aircraft, such as AH / MH-6 Little Bird helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles while using austere or improvised airfields in semi-or non-permissive areas.
The MC-130’s FARP capability is not limited to special operations aircraft. The air force was experiment with using The MC-130 refuels some of its most advanced fighter jets, like the F-22 Raptor, from impromptu airfields.
The American army, the air force in particular, seeks to counter the growing size and reach of the Chinese military by dispersing its forces in the Indo-Pacific region, often using run down or underdeveloped bases.
A more robust FARP capability could therefore be invaluable in a conflict with China, especially if paired with the Marine Corps’ F-35B fighter jet, which has a short take-off and vertical landing capability that makes it suitable for very austere environments.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.
Read the original article on Business intern