The RAAF has announced it will roll out its Ka-Band satellite communications (ASATCOM) system to an additional five C-130J-30 Hercules transports following a successful trial.
The first aircraft was fitted with SATCOM for a six-month trial in 2017. At the time, the ADF said the trial was to be conducted with the support of industry partners Airbus Australia Pacific, Inmarsat, Honeywell, L-3 Communications and the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG).
The system uses the Inmarsat Global Xpress Network to provide broadband 4mb/s internet connectivity for high-definition video and is able to support complex mission planning whilst in flight. The new system is in addition to the L-Band SATCOM voice and data system fitted to all 12 C-130Js.
“Our Hercules crews and passengers are often first on the scene in times of crisis, and require timely information at their destination,” Commander of the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group (AMG) AIRCDRE Bill Kourelakos said in a statement. “Already, we’ve demonstrated the utility of this system on one Hercules, streaming video from missions in the Pacific and allowing basic Command and Control functions to be carried out from the aircraft.
“Even after 60 years, a RAAF Hercules is often one of the first aircraft on the scene during a crisis, and up-to-date information is critical for our people when they step off the ramp,” he added. “Crews and passengers can undertake complex mission planning enroute to their destination, stream video of their mission back to a headquarters, or receive it from another node.”
“There’s significant potential for the Hercules to serve as a tactical Command and Control platform, combining its range and loiter with its ability to airdrop or operate from austere airstrips.”
Installation of the Honeywell JetWave Ka-Band SATCOM antennas and associated systems will be completed during scheduled maintenance periods by Airbus Australia Pacific at RAAF Richmond, and all five aircraft are expected to be completed by 2022.
The rollout of high-speed communications is one of a number of mission enhancements to the C-130J fleet that have been announced recently.
In February, it was reported the RAAF was also considering the integration of the Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28 Litening AT targeting and EO/IR pod to the C-130J, and this was confirmed by the RAAF at Avalon later that month. The still capable pods will be surplus to RAAF requirements following the retirement of the final F/A-18A/B classic Hornets in 2022.
The addition of Litening AT will enhance the C-130J’s ability to provide ISR overwatch for forces on the ground, to ensure a designated landing or extraction zone is clear of threats, to geolocate targets of interest or precision airdrop locations, or to even provide fires support to off-board shooters. For peacetime missions, a high-performance EO/IR pod could provide accurate imagery and data to support the HADR or search and rescue roles.
And in November 2018, it was announced that two C-130Js had been equipped with auxiliary external fuel tanks, each of which has a four-tonne fuel capacity. One of those aircraft were deployed to Guam for the joint Operation Christmas Drop exercise conducted with US forces where food, clothing and toys are delivered to outlying communities in the Marshall Islands as part of a trial.
The additional capacity also increases the amount of fuel the aircraft can offload to vehicles, helicopters or generators at forward air refuelling points (FARPs) without compromising its own reserves.