• A Litening sensor pod hangs from the wing of a No. 37 Squadron C-130J Hercules aircraft at RAAF Base Richmond.
    A Litening sensor pod hangs from the wing of a No. 37 Squadron C-130J Hercules aircraft at RAAF Base Richmond. Defence

The RAAF has begun flight trials of a Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules fitted with Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-28(v) Litening sensor pod on an underwing pylon.

The Litening pod is intended to provide electro-optic and infra-red (EO/IR) video in day and night conditions, which will be used to provide enhanced situational awareness to both the flight crew and commanders on the ground, via wideband satellite communications (SATCOM).

The pods were originally acquired for the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Hornets as a targeting pod and entered service in 2007. With the withdrawal of the Hornet fleet in favour of the F-35A, which has an internal sensor and targeting system, the Litening pods are becoming surplus to requirements.

ADM understands that the laser designation capability of the pod will be disabled, rendering incapable of providing targeting information and therefore ruling out – at least for now –weapons such as the Hellfire air to ground missile, as seen on some US Marine Corps C-130J aircraft.

With this installation, the RAAF becomes just the second air force in the world to integrate the pod on to the C-130, behind the US Arkansas Air National Guard (ANG).

One aircraft has been modified at RAAF Richmond by C-130J maintenance provider Airbus Australia Pacific, with assistance from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The aircraft (A97-448) is the RAAF’s ‘Jericho Demonstrator’ and has already been modified with a number of modifications, including a high-speed satellite communications (SATCOM) system and an augmented crew station in the flight deck. Information received from the Litening pod will be displayed at the augmented flight station.

“A97-448 will allow us to explore how the Hercules and wider air mobility fleet will support operations as part of a fifth-generation air force,” said Air Commodore Carl Newman, Commander Air Mobility Group (AMG).

“For air mobility, that means the ability to gather and share greater amounts of information within a battlespace, enabling better decision-making for the crew, embarked forces and other supporting units.”

The flight trials are being conducted at Richmond by 37 Squadron (the operators of the RAAF C-130J fleet) and the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), supported by the Air Warfare Engineering Squadron. They began on January 17 without the pod installed, in order to determine baseline performance, followed by the initial flight with the pod on January 29.

“This trial will examine how the Litening pod can improve crew situational awareness to mitigate mission risks,” AIRCDRE Newman added. “For example, (it) could help us maintain contact with survivors during search and rescue (SAR) operations or examine conditions at an airfield or drop zone prior to delivering cargo or personnel.”

ADM first revealed the RAAF was considering fitting surplus Litening pods to the C-130J fleet early last year (see ‘Litening Pods for RAAF C-130Js?’).

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