Military Embedded Systems

C-130 that can land on water being explored by USSOCOM, official says


May 09, 2023

Dan Taylor

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems


SOF WEEK -- TAMPA, Florida. U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is exploring a C-130 that can land on water, potentially turning the world's oceans into runways for the aircraft, Jim Smith, head of USSOCOM acquisition, said during his keynote address on Tuesday.

"No lie, this is a tough engineering challenge to turn an MC-130 into a floatplane, but we're pursuing it and AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] is interested in other ways of achieving that as well," he said, adding that turning the entire Indo-Pacific area of responsibility into a landing zone with such a capability would create significant strategic dilemmas for adversaries.

There are other initiatives to make USSOCOM less dependent on runways, Smith said. "[With] the INDOPACOM AOR and the tyranny of distance and they've got a large amount of water, how do you get away from runway dependence?" he said. "So the first thing you'll see up there is high speed, vertical takeoff and landing [VTOL]. We're working with DARPA and a 50/50 cost share environment to work on a scale prototype for high speed, [VTOL] capability. So that's coming up."

In addition, he explored the idea of untethered logistics, enabling small unit formations at the edge to be self-sufficient, generating their own energy, water supply, and even manufacturing capabilities.

On the topic of next-generation intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), Smith emphasized the importance of a three-legged stool consisting of space, cyber, and uncrewed systems. "The data coming from all three of those sources fused so that it's information at the edge," he said.

Discussing the challenges in contested communications, Smith acknowledged the need to balance user desire for broad bandwidth and high power with the security environment. "We know there's going to be contested comms environment, we know we're going to be challenges with jamming," Smith said, suggesting that finding the middle ground between these concerns would require industry partners' assistance.

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