AFA NEWS: AFSOC Plans to Conduct Amphibious Plane Flight Demo in 2022

By Jon Harper
Rendering of a twin float amphibious modification to an MC-130J Commando II

Air Force rendering

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Air Force Special Operations Command aims to conduct a flight demonstration in 2022 to test a new amphibious capability for the MC-130J transport plane, the head of the organization told reporters Sept. 20. 

AFSOC currently uses land-based MC-130Js to move troops and equipment for special ops missions. But with the Defense Department turning its primary focus to great power competition with China, the command wants aircraft that can land and take-off from the sea in the Indo-Pacific region. 

“How do we gain and leverage access and placement and influence in a part of the globe that is predominated by large bodies of water? AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife asked during a meeting with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

“When you think about things like logistics, resupply, personnel recovery, aquatic infiltration and exfiltration — those types of things all kind of call for an ability to operate in an amphibious fashion.” 

The command wants an amphibious configuration of the MC-130J Commando II that will be able to provide logistics support for forces operating on islands or in other locations that don’t have major runways or fixed operating bases, he noted. 

An industry task force is collaborating with Air Force Special Operations Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory on the technology. AFSOC and its industry partners are currently working on prototypes through digital design, virtual reality modeling and computer-aided designs in a “digital proving ground” that will facilitate rapid prototyping and physical prototype testing, according to a recent AFSOC press release. 

“This is a right now a bit of an experimentation effort to see if it can be done,” Slife said. “Ideally, we would like to do a flying demo next year. … That is a very aggressive schedule for something of this nature, and we think that it is within reach because of the advances in digital design and digital engineering. And so we've actually done quite a bit of work. You know, we've looked at a number of different configurations to figure out which ones have the most promise for us.” 

How the flight demonstration plays out will inform future decisions about procurement and fielding, he said. 

The amphibious capability could potentially be incorporated into other C-130 platforms such as the AC-130 gunship, he added. 

“One of the things that distinguishes the AC-130s as they're coming off the lines right now are the really superb battle management architecture in the back of those airplanes,” Slife said. “The sensor and munitions employment package in the back of the gunship — it's really fantastic.” 

The plane is wired to deploy a host of munitions out of the cabin and the wing pylons, to include gravity bombs and missiles, he noted. 

“I could envision a future where that type of a fires platform … has an amphibious capability. Absolutely,” he said. “But it all has to start with the MC-130, which is our baseline aircraft.” 

Slife said it would be inaccurate to refer to the envisioned MC-130J configuration as a “float plane” or “sea plane.” AFSOC is looking for a “removable amphibious float modification” to the MC-130J, according to the press release. 

“It is a true amphibious capability we're after. In other words, the ability to land on either land or water and not be completely a maritime-only kind of platform,” he explained. 

Topics: Air Power, Special Operations, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

Comments (6)

Re: AFSOC Plans to Conduct Amphibious Plane Flight Demo in 2022

This is beyond Stupid, we have a Great ally in Japan who's leading the way on a great many things the US has given up on, yet they still buy Billions in US Weapons.. An we don't have the common polite thing to do , an Jump in with India an order 40-50 US`2 Japanese Amphibious Aircraft , have in service buy end of year 2022..

Allan Desmond at 12:10 PM
Re: AFSOC Plans to Conduct Amphibious Plane Flight Demo in 2022

Why couldn't they use the air cushion landing system (ACLS) that was developed in the 1970s. Studies were done on converting C-130 to use ACLS.

Edward Randall at 12:56 PM
Re: AFSOC Plans to Conduct Amphibious Plane Flight Demo in 2022

I notice that struts connect the floats to the fuselage - I would suspect that repeated water landings would lead to structural fatigue. I would think that a flying boat fuselage, such as the Pan Am clippers of the 1930s and the Catalina and Mariner used by Navy and Army during WW2 would be a more suitable design.

John McKee at 11:37 AM
Re: AFSOC Plans to Conduct Amphibious Plane Flight Demo in 2022

If these modifications produce effective, amphibious transport planes they would substantially increase the number of potential anti-ship rocket bases suitable for blocking further expansion of China's naval threat. Similar transports were used to support remote island bases in WWII, so the concept is already established, but unfamiliar to most current personnel.
This raises one obvious issue: such slow moving transports will need to fly low to avoid radar detection, and require armed fighter excorts in case adversaries attempt a strike. Similarly equipped fighter escorts could be based at the atolls, and even help to fend off attacks mounted via China's huge flotilla of smaller militia ships. Question is thus whether suitable fighter-bombers like the A-10 are also being equipped with floats to assist in this effort?

Mauritz Svensson at 3:51 PM
Re: AFSOC Plans to Conduct Amphibious Plane Flight Demo in 2022

Reminds me of various conversions undertaken in WW2, including the C-47. Thinking should extend beyond SOCOM to include regulars transport C-130s. For the latter there would need to be a rear ramp extension to allow offload to a beach. Also note that although floatplanes can rarely alight in the open ocean they can land in lagoons, harbors and rivers.

Mike Rogers at 11:14 AM
Re: AFSOC Plans to Conduct Amphibious Plane Flight Demo in 2022

Not to mention that the C-130 has about as much stealth as a tractor-trailer. You're not sneaking up on someone with this thing.

Tom Corral at 7:59 PM
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