August 23, 2011: This month, U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is receiving the first of 85 MC-130J transports. This is part of a U.S. Air Force purchase of over a hundred of the new models, to replace 200 worn out C-130Es. Thus the C-130s continue to thrive after over half a century, because they are a reliable and inexpensive way to move cargo to improvised airfields.
The C-130J transport proved to be more than just another model in the fifty year old C-130 design. This is mainly because it's cheaper and easier to use. Like most new commercial transports, the C-130J emphasizes saving money. The new engines generate 29 percent more thrust while using 15 percent less fuel. Increased automation reduced crew size from four to three. The rear ramp door can now be opened in flight when the aircraft is going as fast as 450 kilometers an hour, versus the current 270 kilometers an hour.
The C-130J is more reliable and easier to maintain. So far, C-130Js have cost nearly twenty percent less per hour than previous models. The current 70 ton MC-130H (there are several MC-130 models) has a crew of seven, a cruise speed of 480 kilometers an hour and unrefueled range of 4,300 kilometers. This version can carry 77 passengers, or 52 paratroopers or 57 litter patients or 18 tons of cargo. The new SOCOM MC-130Js include sixteen that will replace aging AC-130 gunships.
The SOCOM MC-130s are all-weather aircraft used for everything from moving SOCOM personnel and equipment around the combat zone, to parachuting supplies, refueling helicopters in the air, dropping bombs and propaganda leaflets, or loading a pallet or two of electronic gear for special reconnaissance or psychological warfare missions. MC-130s are particularly useful because they have terrain following radar that enables them to fly at low altitude, especially at night or during bad weather. MC-130s have several additional navigation and communication systems, which allow them to fly in all weather, especially low enough to avoid radar detection.
The most common version of the C-130 still in service is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C-130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The stretched C-130J-30 can carry more bulky cargo, and goes for about $100 million each. The C-130J has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C130H. The C-130 has been in service for over half a century, and has been flying for over 50 countries.