Magazine article National Defense

Why Special Ops Prefer C-130s for Many Missions

Magazine article National Defense

Why Special Ops Prefer C-130s for Many Missions

Article excerpt

The venerable C-130 Hercules air transport turned up almost everywhere in the special-operations war in Afghanistan, with different versions of it performing a variety of gritty functions. For example:

* In the early days of the war, when Army Rangers raided a Taliban airfield in Southern Afghanistan, they parachuted from MC130E/H Combat Talons.

* MC-130s also dropped millions of leaflets offering rewards for terrorist leaders, warning Afghan civilians about the dangers of unexploded bombs and providing other critical information, such as the $25 million reward for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

* AC-130 gunships, called Spectre or Spooky, circled slowly over enemy targets, pounding them with powerful, side-firing 105 run howitzers, 40 mm cannon and 25 mm Gatling guns.

* EC-130 psychological-operations aircraft, known as Commando Solo, broadcast radio programs, music and other announcements aimed at convincing the Afghan populace to turn against the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that controlled their country.

* MC-130P Combat Shadows provided air refueling for special operations helicopters as they made their way deep into Afghanistan.

C-130s-with a design that dates back four decades-are popular with the U.S. Special Operations Command, because "they can fly low, slow and long distances," said Peter Simmons, a spokesman for the plane's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, of Marietta, Ga.

Unlike larger transports, such as the mammoth C-17s and C-Ss, the Hercules-named for the mythical Greek hero renowned for his great strength-can land on unimproved dirt runways. In fact, when the Marines seized an isolated airfield, which they called Camp Rhino, the first fixed-wing aircraft to land there were C-130s.

The 16th Special Operations Wing of the Air Force Special Operations Command, headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla., used C-130s to ferry special operators all over Afghanistan.

The aircraft's design enables it to be configured for many different special-operations missions, Simmons said. It can carry troops, vehicles and armaments into battle. It can drop paratroopers and supplies from the sky. It can refuel both airborne and ground platforms. If necessary, it can be fitted with skis, instead of wheels, for taking off and landing in heavy snow.

Much of the special-mission equipment can be quickly removed, allowing the "Herk," as it is nicknamed, to revert back to its cargo-delivery role, if desired. Also, the C-130 can be reconfigured rapidly to accept a wide range of cargo, including palletized equipment, floor-- loaded material, airdrop platforms, container-delivery system bundles and combat vehicles, including the Army's new interim armored vehicle. The transport can accommodate 92 combat troops or 64 fully equipped paratroops on side-facing seats. For medical evacuations, it can carry up to 74 litter patients.

The Air Force first deployed the C-130 in 1955. The aircraft played a key role in Vietnam, where the gunship version destroyed more than 10,000 enemy trucks.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Jones credits one with saving his life during the 1968 siege of Khe Sanh. At the time, he told a group of defense reporters, he was commander of a rifle company that had been assaulted by a North Vietnamese battalion. …

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