Special Operations: The Weakest Link


June 20, 2009: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is getting the last four of the twelve MC-130W aircraft it began receiving three years ago. Congress would not guarantee all twelve, and it has taken some persuading to get the entire dozen. SOCOM only has about 40 MC-130 aircraft, and six have been lost since September 11, 2001. The others have been worked hard, and are fading fast.

The MC-130s are all-weather aircraft, and are 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. In other words, there are never enough MC-130s. The new ones (the MW-130W) don't have the terrain following radar that some others have, making low altitude flight more dangerous, or simply impossible. SOCOM has borrowed regular C-130s as much as it can, but these usually can't be used for night missions.

SOCOM's best bet appears to be getting possession of older C-130s and converting them to MC-130s. Even getting money for this is difficult. C-130s aren't sexy, but if the SOCOM operators can't get to where they are needed, fewer problems are going to be taken care of.



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