• A RAAF C-130J Hercules conducts a handling display over Sydney Harbour.
    A RAAF C-130J Hercules conducts a handling display over Sydney Harbour. Defence

The RAAF is considering repurposing a number of Northrop Grumman AAQ-28(v) Litening targeting pods for use on its Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 fleet.

The pods were acquired some years ago as part of the incremental Hornet Upgrade (HUG) program undertaken on the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B ‘Classic’ Hornet fleet. But with the Hornet now preparing to leave service the pods will become surplus to requirements, as the F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler use the rival Raytheon AAQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod and the F-35A Lightning II has an in-built Electro-Optical Targeting System.

Commander of the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group (AMG), Air Commodore Bill Kourelakos says use of the pod on the C-130J will provide enhanced situational awareness for crew and it would be used in conjunction with other initiatives, such as the Link 16 Tactical Data Link recently fitted to the fleet and Ka-band satellite communications (SATCOM), which is currently undergoing trials.

“If we were able to put a pod on the wing of the aircraft, we could obtain imagery of an objective area ourselves and pipe it through the SATCOM and be a provider of imagery back to Joint Headquarters,” he said.

“But it can’t be at the expense of our primary mission, which is moving people and cargo. We are not in the business of turning the C-130J into a surveillance platform.”

Uses for the imagery obtained by the Electro-Optical Infrared (EO/IR) Litening pod could include surveying damaged airfields during Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.

“If we were going into a disaster area, where a cyclone has been through the airfield for example, we can overfly the airfield, obtain imagery and analyse it to decide if we are able to land,” AIRCDRE Kourelakos said.

“And then that imagery would also assist planners in determining what might be required in the next load into that disaster area.”

The US Air Force’s Arkansas Air National Guard has already integrated the Litening pod onto a C-130 and ADM understands that the RAAF intends to leverage this work and, as a result, local modification of the fleet would presumably be straightforward.

“The hardpoints to mount those pods already exist on our aircraft, so there will be no structural modification or design required,” AIRCDRE Kourelakos adds.

Although the modification is still subject to Defence approval and no firm date has been set for when it will be installed and demonstrated, ADM understands that local testing of the C-130J/Litening combination could occur before the end of the year.

The pod will be installed on one of the RAAF’s C-130Js (A97-448), which has the Ka-Band SATCOM capability and Link 16 and also underwing external fuel tanks, which enhance the aircraft’s Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) capability. Together the initiatives are being undertaken under the Plan Jericho umbrella and the aircraft is known within Air Mobility Group as the ‘Jericho Demonstrator’.

ADM also understands that this aircraft will be on display at the 2019 Australian International Airshow at Avalon in late February.

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