The U.S. Coast Guard ran into a lot of problems upgrading its surface fleet after the Cold War ended in the 1990s. But the upgrades of its aircraft was a much smoother operation. Currently, the coast guard is in the midst of replacing its elderly HC-130H SAR (search and rescue)/long range patrol aircraft with larger, faster and better equipped 70 ton HC-130Js. One reason for the hassle-free acquisition of these aircraft is that the U.S. Air Force operates an even larger number of HC-130 aircraft. The air force HC-130s have slightly different equipment (like aerial refueling for helicopters) but are basically the same as the coast guard HC-130s. The air force is also in the process of replacing it elderly HC-130s (some from the late 1960s) with the HC-130J. The air force HC-130s often operate overseas, wherever air force aircraft operate a lot over open water (usually just going from one land mass to another). Both the coast guard and air force also use their HC-130s for moving personnel and cargo.
Coast Guard aircraft are especially useful for search and rescue, a job the coast guard is frequently called on for coastal areas where so many recreational and commercial craft operate. Much of that coastal work is carried out by nearly 150 coast guard helicopters and several dozen twin-engine SAR/transport aircraft. But when the SAR work is way out to sea and needs to be done in a hurry (as in cold weather) the HC-130s are often a matter of life or death. For the rescue part of SAR the HC-130s can drop survival equipment (small craft) and personnel (para-rescue jumpers) to assist with the rescue and tend to any injured people. The jumpers also have communications gear that enables them to report who the survivors are, what shape they are in and, if applicable, any information they have on other survivors.
The HC-130Js are 14 percent faster and can fly higher than the older HC-130s. This is a key factor when speed is critical to reach the search area. HC-130Js can stay in the air for over 20 hours (depending on speed and altitude) have a new search radar which shows more detail (photo quality images), scans 360 degrees and have many new software features. The coast guard began receiving its 22 HC-130Js
The coast guard still operates 18 of the older HC-130Hs because only nine of the 22 HC-130Js have been delivered so far. The first one was delivered in late 2003 and all won’t be in service until the mid-2020s. Even before that, the coast guard decided to equip the HC-130J (and all other fixed wing SAE aircraft) with the Minotaur mission system, which enables all aircraft with it to instantly share search information. This in includes radar data and photos taken by the optical search systems (day/night/thermal imaging) with zoom most aircraft now use in addition to radar. Minotaur has proved very useful for high-seas SAR where you often have several aircraft, plus some ships involved and having a combined picture of where all the searchers are and what they are seeing have proved immensely useful. Minotaur also automatically receives weather reports and can add that to the search picture, in addition to near-term forecasts. The coast guard started installing Minotaur in 2017 and it quickly proved itself. The Coast Guard Minotaur was developed from the one the navy and air force are already using.