USSOCOM update on MC-130J “MAC” or amphibious capability

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SOFIC 2022 took place in Tampa, Florida, 16-19 May and was presented by a panel of speakers lead by Colonel Kenneth Kuebler, USAF, Director of the Air Force Portfolio Division. Naval News readers can look here for more information on USSOCOM’s pursuit for an amphibious C-130 seaplane. USSOCOM’s SOFIC 2022 slide showing the Emerging Technologies in which Amphibious MC-130 (MAC) demonstration is one of them. SOFIC 2022 slide. Rich Rodriguez, USSOCOM’s Tech Director in Emerging Technologies, offered new details at SOFIC 2022 as to the progress and goal of the Amphibious MC-130 (MAC) demonstration:

Update from USSOCOM on the MC-130J’s ‘MAC’ or amphibious capability The USSOCOM Program Executive Office Fixed Wing (PEO FW) provided additional insight into the advancement of the Special Operations Command’s search for an amphibious C-130J seaplane for increased mobility, flexibility, and survivability in the INDO-PACOM region at the U.S. Special Operations Forces Industry Conference 2022 (SOFIC 2022), held in person for the first time (and also virtually) since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlights

  • For speculative discussion purposes, Colonel Kuebler said that USSOCOM is looking at these areas to modernize: Autonomation—the ability to have an Operator control more than one item with the goal of reducing crew workload and instead having the Operator focus on critical items such as safety or combat-critical areas; Survivability—adding defensive systems for “Greater stand-off” from a permissive environment [counterterrorism] to survive in a contested environment [against peer nations]. Colonel Kuebler describes this setup as similar to LEGO building blocks for a “truly multi-mode modular system that I [USSOCOM] can easily and quickly put on whatever payload that field commander needs for that mission.”

  • “In terms of amphibious MC-130 demonstration, USSOCOM is actually going through some market research, currently, to see if we can identify any potential amphibious capacities to meet some of the SOF Requirements that are existing. And currently AFSOC is also doing an experimental demonstration where they are planning on putting some float assemblies on a C-130 platform. They use digital engineering as a major factor of reducing some of that risk and making some of those changes, and they have gone through some hydrotesting and some aero testing on a subscale factor.”

SOFIC 2022 confirmed that this AFSOC concept of a MC-130 resting on pontoon floats is their experimental goal for an amphibious MC-130J. USAF image. Also unclear is how USSOCOM will load and unload cargo from a MC-130J’s fuselage resting high up on floating pontoons as the rear cargo ramp might be so high that the steep angle of the rear ramp might prevent true drive-on/drive-off of watercraft and boats such as RHIBs, jetskis, amphibious vehicles, and Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts (CRRCs). The U.S. Army’s secretive and elite Task Force-160’s MH-47s often sit in the water and deploy their rear cargo ramps for rapid CRRC exfiltration and infiltration where the CRRC can literally drive right up and into the flooded interior of the MH-47. However, the amphibious MC-130J will be sitting on pontoons so this “wet duck CRRC extraction” method might not be feasible if the pontoons cannot ballast to lower the C-130’s fuselage and ramp closer to the water’s surface, or if the MC-130J’s interior is allowed to be floodable.

How these SOCOM modernization areas affect the MC-130 amphibious demonstration is unclear, but Mr. Rodriguez’s SOFIC 2022 comment did give an indication that USSOCOM may be looking for any seaplane candidates that fit the need for amphibious military cargo lift (such as the DARPA “Liberty Lifter” or the Japanese ShinMaywa US-2). The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) on the other hand is looking at adding pontoon floats to an existing C-130 and not modifying it extensively with a seaplane boat hull, which was an early concept by Lockheed Martin dating back several years.

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