As the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) ponders a follow-on to the Bell [TXT]-Boeing [BA] CV-22 tiltrotor and materiel to support future close air support/precision strike and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, the AFSOC commander suggested on Nov. 23 that relatively stable or declining DoD budgets will mean thinking of innovative uses of existing equipment.

“These are all questions that we’re going to have to struggle with, and we’re going to have to view it through the lens of the resourcing environment,” Air Force Gen. James Slife, the AFSOC commander, said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) virtual forum. “One of the things that I’m keen for us to focus on is how do we use the capabilities we have in a way that is more relevant to the future operating environment.”

“We’re on the tail end of a C-130 recapitalization effort,” Slife said. “Now, it would be fantastic if I could go buy an invisible C-130, but the reality is that an invisible C-130 is probably beyond the means that I have available so I’ve  got to figure out what to do with the C-130s that I’ve got. If I can figure out how to make that C-130 invisible at a critical moment in time, perhaps that is sufficient.”

The Air Force requested four MC-130Js for AFSOC in the service’s fiscal 2021 budget request. While AC-130J aircraft are to provide close air support, air interdiction, and armed reconnaissance, the MC-130J Commando II aircraft provide clandestine single or multi-ship low-level aerial refueling for special operations helicopters and CV-22s; and conduct airdrops of propaganda leaflets, small special operations teams, resupply bundles, and combat rubber raiding craft.

AFSOC provides niche capabilities for the planes, including Airborne Mission Networking (AbMN), data fusion, threat detection and avoidance, electronic warfare, and an integrated terrain following/terrain avoidance Raytheon [RTQ] AN/APQ-187 Silent Knight radar.

In addition to the MC-130J recapitalization, AFSOC is looking to use the aircraft in new ways. In January, an MC-130J released palletized munitions in three airdrops at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. Aircrew released five wooden pallets – dubbed Combat Expendable Platforms – stacked with six simulated munitions in both low and high-altitude airdrops.

“How do we use what we have in novel and creative ways that are relevant to that future operating environment, rather than sitting around and thinking big thoughts about teleportation machines and invisibility cloaks, which is what we normally do, frankly,” Slife said on Nov. 23. “I think sometimes we get a little infatuated with the technology. We need to spend a little less time thinking about the technology and a little more time thinking about innovative concepts for employing the technology that we have.”