• The Hercules could serve as a tactical command and control platform.
Nigel Pittaway
    The Hercules could serve as a tactical command and control platform. Nigel Pittaway

Defence announced on Monday that it will fit Honeywell’s JetWave Ka-band Satellite Communications (SATCOM) system to an additional five Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules airlifters of No.37 Squadron.

The RAAF’s Air Mobility Group (AMG) is seeking to incrementally increase the connectivity of the Hercules fleet under the aegis of Plan Jericho.

On completion the program will deliver a Wideband SATCOM capability to half of the RAAF’s fleet, following the modification of a single aircraft for trials in 2017. The initial aircraft, A97-449, known within Air Force as the ‘Jericho Demonstrator’ is also being used to trial underwing fuel tanks and, if approval is forthcoming, it will also be the test-bed for the integration of the Northrop Grumman AAQ-24(v) Litening Targeting Pod (see ‘Litening Pods for RAAF C-130Js’).

The first of the five aircraft announced on Monday will begin modification in late 2019 during a scheduled heavy maintenance layup at RAAF Base Richmond conducted by Airbus Australia Pacific. All five aircraft will be completed by 2022.

The RAAF Hercules fleet has been equipped with an L-band SATCOM system since 2015, but the older system is not capable of supporting high definition video or the levels of data transfer demanded by the modern battlespace.

Commander AMG, Air Commodore Bill Kourelakos, said the wideband system allows for streaming of high-definition video as well as supporting complex mission planning whilst the aircraft is in flight.

“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,” AIRCDRE Kourelakos said. “Crews and passengers can undertake complex mission planning en-route to their destination, stream video of their mission back to headquarters, or receive it form another node.

“There’s significant potential for the Hercules to serve as a tactical command and control platform, combining its range and loiter (capability) with its ability to airdrop or operate from austere airstrips.”

AIRCDRE Kourelakos said the Honeywell Ka-Band system will complement current satellite transfer rates and enable communications across a broader spectrum of flight conditions.

The RAAF is the first air force to use the Honeywell Ka-band SATCOM system on the C-130J.

Army’s Ground Liaison Officer with 37 Sqn, Captain Ian Carter, said the connectivity delivered by the Ka-band system will enhance embarked forces’ access to timely data.

“Having half the Hercules fleet fitted with this system provides greater assuredness of capability-boosting technology being available for embarked Defence units,” CAPT Carter said.

“The RAAF is interested in understanding the interoperability implications this system could have for Forces and Special Operations Command units, whether it be used for deploying forces or sustaining them on operations.”

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