Harvest Hawk proving itself to commanders
Aircrews flying the US Marine Corps’ latest aerial platform say it has more than proven itself in combat.
The KC-130J Harvest HAWK (Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit) may look like any other Hercules but Lockheed Martin and the USMC have turned the aircraft into an extremely capable close air support aircraft with the ability to spend hours over the battlefield and deliver ordnance to where it’s needed.
The Harvest Hawk went into operation in October 2010 and since then has flown around 1,300 flight hours, expending nearly around 40 Hellfires and 10 Griffin missiles against enemy combatants in Southern Afghanistan.
The weapons are aimed using an EO/IR and laser designator fitted to a modified fuel tank under the port wing. The system is controlled by a pair of fire control operators sat in the rear of the aircraft.
'Ground commanders were apprehensive at first,' said Maj Marc Blankenbicker, fire control officer and OC of the Harvest Hawk flight at Camp Dwyer.
'It was new, and traditional Marine Corps concepts of the C-130 are not kinetic. There may have been misconceptions and miscommunications, but we quickly dispelled them, and it did not take long before we had a close relationship with the ground commanders.
'Today, there are a lot of units that prefer to have us overhead,' added Blankenbicker.
The aircraft is unique in the USMC in being able to provide long endurance close air support over the battlefield. The marines current rely heavily on overhead cover from 'fast air' platforms such as Harriers and Hornets, but these aircraft are limited to short stints over the battlefield before they have to head for a tanker or another airfield for fuel. The Hawk on the other hand can remain up for seven or eight hours; the longest mission so far is 10.2 hours.
Just the one Harvest Hawk is flying on operations at the moment, but Lockheed Martin is currently preparing the second in Palmdale, California, and that aircraft is set to arrive in theatre later this year. The ultimate aim for the marines is to have three aircraft in each of the three KC-130J squadrons.
There will be more on the Harvest Hawk in a future edition of Digital Battlespace magazine.
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