Air Force Special Operations Command needs a “true amphibious” platform to enhance capabilities in the Indo-Pacific theater and plans a demo flight of an amphibious version of the MC-130J by late 2022.
AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. James C. “Jim” Slife said the command is at an “inflection point.” It will increasingly prioritize support to the Air Force, rather than Special Operations Command, and seek capabilities to operate in an island environment in the South China Sea and East China Sea. In that effort, AFSOC is moving forward to make its most versatile and flexible platform, the MC-130J, capable of personnel infiltration and exfiltration, logistics, resupply, and personnel recovery in aquatic environments.
“Our regional focus around the world has obviously shifted,” Slife said at a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md.
“The Indo-Pacific Region writ large is, you know, it’s obviously a region most appropriately characterized by the vast bodies of water that are there,” Slife said. “Rather than wholesale, clean-sheet acquisition programs, we need to be looking at how to use the relatively modernized fleet that we have in new and novel ways.”
AFSOC recently announced efforts to develop a twin-float amphibious modification of the aircraft. Slife said digital engineering will make a flight test of one aircraft possible in calendar year 2022.
“If there is a way that we can use an MC-130J in an amphibious capability, that’s something we’re very interested in,” he said.
“Right now, this is a bit of an experimentation effort to see if it can be done,” Slife added, noting that an acquisitions plan had not yet been developed. “Ideally, we’d like to do a flying demo next year … that is a very aggressive schedule for something of this nature.”
Slife said AFSOC has already considered a variety of configurations. Digital design and digital engineering will make the flying demo possible in late 2022, but he could not say when procurement and fielding of the new amphibious platform would be possible.
“It’s going to depend on how that demo turns out, what performance trade-offs would be required in order to field that capability,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions on whether we would field that for the entire fleet or a number of kits that would be available when needed.”