U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has, for the first time since the Vietnam War, allowed its MC-130 gunships to operate in daytime.
For the last four decades, it was believed too dangerous for these low, slow flying, heavily armed aircraft to operate when the sun was up. The key to this change is new weapons being used by gunships. The new, small, missiles enable the slow, large, MC-130s to operate above the range of ground fire. The new SOCOM MC-130W “Dragon Spear” is also based on an idea developed by the U.S. Marine Corps, the “instant gunship.”
The first one of these arrived in Afghanistan five months ago. Four months ago, it fired one of its weapons (a Hellfire missile) for the first time (killing five Taliban). Called “Harvest Hawk,” the marine “instant gunship” system, enables weapons and sensors to be quickly rolled into a C-130 transport and hooked up. This takes a few hours, and turns the C-130 into a gunship (similar in capabilities existing AC-130 gunships). The sensor package consists of day/night vidcams with magnification capability. The weapons currently consist of ten Griffin missiles and four Hellfires. A 30mm autocannon is optional.
The 15.6 kg (34.5 pound) Griffin, recently entered service in Afghanistan, aboard UAVs. The Hellfire II, which weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds), carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead and has a range of 8,000 meters. The Griffin has a 5.9 kg (13 pound) warhead which is larger, in proportion to its size, than the one carried by the larger Hellfire missile. Griffin has pop-out wings, allowing it to glide, and thus has a longer range (15 kilometers) than Hellfire. UAVs can carry more of the smaller missiles, typically two of them in place of one Hellfire. There are similar arrangements for Griffin.
Harvest Hawk enables marine KC-130J tankers to be transformed into gunships with the addition of the portable weapons and sensors. The marines had long noted the success of the U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships that SOCOM (Special Operations Command) uses. But they couldn’t afford them, as an AC-130 costs more than three times as much as a marine KC-130J aerial refueling aircraft. But the marines developed a solution. This is something the marines often do.
The KC-130J is the latest, and largest, USMC version of the C-130 transport used for aerial refueling. But the KC-130J can also carry cargo, and weapons (bombs and missiles) hung from the wings. Thus the Harvest Hawk version of the KC-130J adds a targeting pod, with the data going to a special cargo container containing control equipment (computers, commo and displays) enabling operators use of the day/night sensors of the targeting pod, to fire missiles hung from the wings. The SOCOM version is the MC-130W.