Few military aircraft – if any – can match the longevity and versatility of the C-130 Hercules. The US Marine Corps has flown the ‘Herk’ since 1962 and has relied on the type’s multi-mission capability perhaps more than any other operator, by maximising the number of mission sets executed by a single variant. Flown by three active-duty and one reserve Marine Aerial Refueler Transport (VMGR) squadrons, the KC-130J is the primary version operated by the USMC (a second reserve squadron, VMGR-452, is transitioning to the type from the older KC-130T). Known within the VMGR community as the ‘Battleherk’, the KC-130J provides Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) commanders with a long-range heavy-lift asset that is not just versatile, but flexible, able to re-task from one mission to another in flight.
The KC-130J routinely provides the marines with long-range movement of cargo and personnel into and out of austere landing zones, precision air delivery of cargo and personnel, air-to-air refuelling of fixed-wing, rotary-wing and tiltrotor aircraft, air-delivered ground refuelling (ADGR) of aircraft and ground vehicles, radio relay, command and control for air mission commanders, battlefield illumination, and the ability to support arms raids with wheeled rocket artillery systems. Additionally, the Harvest HAWK (Hercules Aerial Weapons Kit) system enables Battleherks so outfitted to provide multi-sensor imagery reconnaissance (MIR) and precision close air support (CAS) in addition to the KC-130J’s existing mission sets. Furthermore, a pending upgrade is set to add electronic warfare capabilities.
Whether it’s providing lift, fuel or supporting fires, the Battleherk is a critical asset that virtually every community in the Marine Corps relies on at one point or another. Summarising the value of the KC-130J to the USMC, Maj Tyler Burnham, a KC-130J instructor with MAWTS-1, told AFM: “Without the Herks, the MAGTF commander would be in a big hurt locker. With the amount of stuff that we provide, you wouldn’t have jets going as far, you wouldn’t have helos going as far, nobody would have their gear or their equipment, and we’d be relying on external air to support all of that. As Herk guys, we take a lot of pride in providing that level of service, and always being ready to go.”