- The prospect of war in the Pacific prompts the US military to consider how to deploy and conduct amphibious operations.
- These challenges have renewed the interest of the US military in an old concept: the amphibious aircraft.
- The US Air Force Special Operations Command is now planning to rapidly develop an amphibious prototype of its workhorse aircraft, the MC-130J.
Growing tensions with China are pushing the US military to seek ways to expand across the Pacific to counter Beijing’s growing navy and missile arsenal.
The US Air Force in particular is seeking to disperse its planes and airmen, and the service’s special operators are now scrambling to outfit their workplanes to operate on land and water.
The US Air Force Special Operations Command said this week it will lead a rapid prototyping effort to increase the “runway independence and expeditionary capability” of its MC-130J by developing “a modified float. removable amphibious “.
The MC-130 variants have supported US military operations since the 1960s. The MC-130J is the latest version and forms the backbone of AFSOC’s fixed-wing force.
The $ 114 million aircraft is equipped with advanced navigation and radar systems that allow it to operate in hostile territory, but the MC-130J Commando II amphibious capability, as the effort is called, will allow it to support the operations at sea and in coastal areas, according to AFSOC.
MAC “enables the Air Force to increase placement and access for infiltration, exfiltration and recovery of personnel, as well as to provide improved logistics capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Josh Trantham, Deputy Head of Science, Systems, Technology and Innovation at AFSOC. in a press release.
Maritime operations provide “almost unlimited” landing spots and would extend the range and survivability of the MC-130J and the commandos that use it, Trantham said.
AFSOC works with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Directorate and with private industry. The command plans to use a five-phase rapid prototyping schedule that will allow it to complete a demonstration of operational capability in 17 months.
AFSOC and representatives of the private sector are already testing prototypes in the Digital Proving Ground, a virtual environment that includes virtual reality modeling and computer-aided design – “paving the way” for more digital simulation and testing and with the use of advanced manufacturing, the release says.
The effort is also aimed at “derisking” the concept for potential use in a future program to give the MC-130Js or other variants of the C-130 an amphibious capability.
The last US military seaplane left the US Coast Guard in 1983, 16 years after the Navy withdrew its last seaplane. Amphibious planes played an important role during World War II, but technological advances during the Cold War made them less valuable.
However, interest in amphibious aircraft has grown in recent years. Several countries, including Russia and Japan, still operate them, and China’s development of the AG600, the world’s largest seaplane, is progressing steadily.
China has invested heavily in its fleet of military airlift aircraft to support long-range operations, and the AG600 provides “niche but important capabilities,” Timothy Heath, senior research scientist, told Insider. international defense to the RAND Corporation. .
“An amphibious aircraft allows you to reach areas that are otherwise difficult to access. They can also support stranded ships at sea or simply if it has to connect with a ship at sea where there is no runway. “Heath said.
China is expected to use the AG600 for search and rescue, transport and firefighting, among other operations. It would be particularly useful in the South China Sea, to support operations around the island bases that China has built there.
AFSOC officials said amphibious aircraft would be a valuable capability in an era of great power competition, and Trantham echoed this view in the statement.
“MAC will be available for use by our sister services, allies and partners,” said Trantham, and its use “with other innovative tools will provide even more complex dilemmas in future battle spaces for our strategic competitors.”