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By Cmdr. Sean Foertsch
“The Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions are clear: Warfighting readiness is our number one, and only, priority. Period,” Rear Adm. Luke Frost, Director, Reserve Warfare, said. “We’re here to better understand the capabilities this aircraft brings to the fight, and the capacity of this world-class production team to deliver them to the flight line.”
“The Navy—and the nation—are depending on us to get this right. Our ability to sustain decisive military operations in a contested environment will hinge on platforms like the KC-130J, the industry that produces them, and the Navy Reserve teams our Navy and Marine Corps depend on to employ them in combat logistics missions around the world.”
America’s Navy operates not just on vast expanses of ocean. Sailors and Marines must be prepared to fight in a complicated, multi-domain maritime battlespace—especially in the Western Pacific. The Navy will certainly bring to bear carrier strike groups, expeditionary strike groups, and submarines. But maritime operations also will include dispersed expeditionary advanced bases, far flung surface action groups, and special operations forces positioned in the most austere environments.
“We will fight not just on, under and above the sea, but on islands, from atolls, and unimproved natural harbors. The KC-130J is a critical conduit in our logistics infrastructure supporting all these lethal nodes that will fight and win the next war,” Frost said.
“The same capability you saw on the nightly news, C-130s integrating forces across the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert expanses of the Middle East over the last two decades, will connect widely distributed maritime terrain to sustain our fighting force in the next conflict.”
Recognizing the imperative for this critical warfighting capability, the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan 2022 established the direction to recapitalize the Navy’s C-130 fleet by 2030. Vice Adm. John Mustin, Chief of Navy Reserve, is urgently moving out on that direction. KC-130Js have been on the department’s unfunded priority list for the last two years. Testifying in congressional posture hearings and via successive National Guard and Reserve Equipment Reports mandated by Congress, Mustin has reiterated that recapitalizing Navy logistics C-130’s with the KC-130J is his top equipment priority. The team from his reserve warfighting directorate is taking action.
After more than three decades operating the C/KC-130T, the Navy Reserve is laser focused on continuing to provide reliable and flexible global airlift. As the workhorse of distributed logistics operations, the Navy’s C/KC-130T executes critical resupply, rearm, repair, refuel, and revive missions for the fleet. From unconventional cargo such as boats, re-compression chambers and marine mammals, to ordnance, weapons, repair parts, personnel and basic supplies, the ‘Herc’ ensures that the fleet has what it needs to maintain readiness, when and where it needs it. The C-130’s global reach, flexibility, and ability to access unprepared airfields make it uniquely valuable for time-critical delivery of repair parts to quickly redeploy Navy ships, as well as to provide life-saving medical evacuation and urgent humanitarian relief. Even as the team toured Air Force Plant 6, Navy C/KC-130T aircraft are actively deployed to Europe, serving forward in the Indo-Pacific theater, and in the Arabian Gulf—all providing just such logistics support to the fleet.
Captain Damon Hildebrand, Branch Head for Reserve Enabling Requirements, has commanded a Navy Reserve air logistics squadron and is headed soon to lead the Navy Air Logistics Office (NALO) responsible for scheduling aircraft support to worldwide fleet requirements. He said, “I’ve experienced first-hand the impressive capability and operational reach ‘Hercs’ provide our Navy, Marine Corps and joint warfighting team in missions around the world. Now, as I prepare to command NALO, the capacity and resiliency of the entire contested logistics network is at the forefront of my mind. And so is the vital importance of the KC-130J in sustained operations in contested environments.”
Air Force Plant 6 is on the critical path to achieving this Navy contested logistics priority. The same plant, built in 1943, that produced 668 B-29 bombers during World War II is now in its eighth decade of producing the C-130 Hercules. From specifications articulated by the Air Force in 1951, the first production Hercules rolled off the line in 1956. Today, aircraft components include engines from Indiana and Maryland, center wing boxes from Mississippi, air frame components from West Virginia, nose cones from Virginia, fuel bladders from Maine, aerial refueling components from California and Iowa, and fuselage panels from Pennsylvania. Components from Wisconsin, Florida, South Carolina and others come together on Lockheed Martin’s factory floor in Marietta, Georgia, to complete production and join the flight line. To date, more than 2,500 C-130s have been ordered and delivered. The airframe is operated by 70 nations and supports all U.S. services.
Touring the production line, the reserve warfighting requirements team was able to see and touch the same tooling that produced that first Hercules aircraft, and every airframe since.
There have been steady advancements along the way. The latest “J” variant flies more cargo, farther, and faster than any of its predecessors – more safely and dependably, at a substantially lower lifecycle operating cost, and with a much smaller crew. Compared to the legacy C/KC-130T model operated globally by five Navy Reserve air logistics squadrons, the “J” is 14% faster, climbs 22% higher, boasts 71% greater range carrying maximum payload, commands 29% more takeoff thrust and climbs 40% faster. These improvements translate to shorter runway requirements and allow improved access in challenging combat environments, all while consuming 15% less fuel and requiring a 40% smaller crew.
“Today’s era of strategic competition demands a peerless, warfighting-ready Navy Reserve force ready to fight and win—confidently and boldly—in sustained, multi-domain combat operations,” said Vice Adm. Mustin. “The KC-130J is an integral component of that readiness. We must—and will—ensure our fleet logistics squadrons are sourced with the most capable aircraft available.”