U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is planning to test the amphibious capability of a Lockheed Martin [LMT] MC-130 in the second half of next year, as part of AFSOC’s examination into enhancing the command’s relevance in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China.

“With respect to the MC-130 amphibious capability, I’ve seen it referred to as a float plane or a seaplane, which is not accurate,” Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife, the AFSOC commander, told a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber conference on Sept. 20.

“It is the true amphibious capabilty we’re after–the ability to land on either land or water and not be completely a maritime-only kind of platform; the ability to do infiltration/exfiltration in a maritime environment from the surface; personnel recovery; personnel insertion; perhaps small maritime vessel surface and sub-surface insertions and extractions would be part of that mission; the ability to provide logistics support to forces operating in perhaps an island environment that’s not serviced by a major, fixed operating base runway,” Slife said. “Those are the types of capabilities we’re looking at.”

Slife has suggested that relatively stable or declining DoD budgets will mean AFSOC will consider innovative uses of existing equipment (Defense Daily, Nov. 23, 2020).

“For AFSOC, rather than wholesale, clean sheet acquisition programs, we need to be looking at how to use the relatively modernized fleet that we have in new and novel ways,” Slife said on Sept. 20. “For us, our most flexible and versatile platform is the MC-130J so if there’s a way that we can use an MC-130J in an amphibious capability, that’s something we’re very interested in in AFSOC.”

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.

Slife said that “it will probably be toward the latter part of the year [2022] that we would do a flying [amphibious] demo with a single [MC-130] airplane to validate the models that we’ve built and the data we’ve predicted through the digital engineering thread and then to make some decisions about where we want to go in terms of fielding the capability more broadly.”

Regarding the CV-22 tiltrotor, AFSOC said that its highest priority has been modifying the engine nacelles to improve engine reliability and reduce the amount of required touch maintenance and the amount of sand, dust, and other particles ingested by the engines.

In 2019, mission readiness for the Marine Corps MV-22 and the AFSOC CV-22s fell below 60 percent.
Bell [TXT] and Boeing [BA] have sought to increase V-22 mission readiness rates by 10 to 12 percent through removing 8 of the 10 wiring interface boxes on the aircraft’s nacelles, changing wiring types, and through nacelle structural upgrades, such as latch changes.
“We are singularly focused right now on sustainabilty improvements in the CV-22 fleet,” Slife said on Sept. 20. “We’ve got a nacelle improvement program that is funded and is underway. The test articles are completing their testing right now. The initial results of the nacelle improvement program tests have been very, very favorable, and we’re looking forward to pushing all our airplanes through a nacelle improvement modification in the coming years.”
Slife said that he visited the Bell plant in Amarillo, Texas, two weeks ago and that the first CV-22s are expected to begin receiving the nacelle improvement modifications in the coming weeks.