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KC-130 Hercules
Three USMC KC-130 aircraft refueling F/A-18 Hornets
Role Aerial refueling, tactical airlifter
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed
Lockheed Martin
Introduction KC-130F: 1962
KC-130R: 1976
KC-130T: 1983
KC-130J: April 2004[1]
Retired KC-130F (2006)
KC-130R (2007)
Status Active
Primary users United States Marine Corps
Royal Canadian Air Force
Number built KC-130B: 6
KC-130F: 46
KC-130H: 33
KC-130R: 14
KC-130T: 28
KC-130J: 42
Developed from Lockheed C-130 Hercules
Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules
Developed into Lockheed Martin HC-130J[2]
Lockheed Martin MC-130J[2]

The Lockheed Martin KC-130 is the basic designation for a family of the extended-range tanker version of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft modified for aerial refueling. The KC-130J is the latest variant operated by the United States Marine Corps, with 38 delivered out of 47 ordered.[3] It replaced older KC-130F and KC-130R variants, while USMC reserve units still operate 28 KC-130T aircraft.[4]


The KC-130F made its first test flight in January 1960 as the GV-1 under the old Navy designation system. First entering service in 1962, the KC-130F was designed to undertake aerial refueling missions in support of USMC aircraft. It was developed from the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

The newest Hercules, the KC-130J, shares 55 percent of the same airframe as preceding models, but in fact is a greatly improved airplane. It is based on the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and provides significant increases in operational capability and performance margins over preceding KC-130F/R aircraft. Additionally, The KC-130J reduces cost of ownership through system reliability and reduced maintenance man-hours per flight hour.

The new HC-130J combat rescue tanker and MC-130J special operations tanker are both derived from a KC-130J baseline.[2]

Technological development has led to the incorporation of interior/exterior night vision lighting, night vision goggle head-up displays, global positioning system, and jam-resistant radios. Some KC-130s are also equipped with defensive electronic and infrared countermeasures systems.


USMC KC-130 and CH-53Es over the Gulf of Aden, 2003.

The KC-130 is a multi-role, multi-mission tactical tanker/transport which provides the refueling support required by the USMC for its aircraft. This versatile asset provides in-flight refueling to both tactical aircraft and helicopters within a 500-nautical-mile (930 km) operating radius, as well as rapid ground refueling when required. Additional tasks performed are aerial delivery of troops and cargo, emergency resupply into unimproved landing zones within the objective or battle area, emergency medical evacuation, tactical insertion of combat troops and equipment, and evacuation missions.


The KC-130J offers a 57,500-pound fuel offload capacity using wing and external tanks while in the air. The KC-130 is equipped with a removable 3,600-gallon aluminum fuel tank that is carried inside the cargo compartment providing additional fuel when required. The aircraft is ready to fuel fixed or rotary-wing aircraft using the standard probe and drogue. The two wing-mounted hose and drogue refueling pods (made by Sargent Fletcher) each transfer up to 300 gallons per minute to two aircraft simultaneously allowing for rapid cycle times of multiple-receiver aircraft formations (a typical tanker formation of four aircraft in less than 30 minutes). When more fuel is needed, an additional 24,392 pounds of fuel can be offloaded from a specially configured internal fuselage tank. The system also functions without the fuselage tank, so the cargo compartment can be used for cargo on the same mission, giving the aircraft even greater flexibility.

The KC-130J provides for the rapid ground refueling of helicopters, vehicles and fuel caches at 4,018 pounds per minute. The aircraft has a unique propeller feathering feature (known as “hotel mode”) which can slow (25% rotation speed) the propellers while the turbines continue to run and pump fuel. This reduction of the propellers' speed helps to eliminate prop wash behind the KC-130J. This allows ground forces to operate in relative calm while the aircraft offloads up to 600 gallons per minute.

The U.S. Marine Corps has chosen the KC-130J tanker to replace its aging KC-130F tanker fleet. The new KC-130J offers increased utility and much needed improvement in mission performance. As a force multiplier, the J-model tanker is capable of refueling both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft as well as conducting rapid ground refueling. The refueling speed envelope has been widened from 100 to 270 knots (500 km/h) indicated airspeed, offering more capability and flexibility.[5] Offload rates per refueling pod can be up to 300 gallons per minute simultaneously. The KC-130's offload is significantly greater than previous Hercules tankers. As an example, at 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 km), the fuel offload is well over 45,000 pounds (20,412 kg).

Harvest HAWK

AGM-114 Hellfires on the wing of a KC-130J

Close up of the Target Sight Sensor mounted under the left wing fuel tank

With the addition of the Marine Corps's ISR / Weapon Mission Kit, the KC-130J will be able to serve as an overwatch aircraft and can deliver ground support fire in the form of Hellfire or Griffin missiles, precision-guided bombs, and eventually 30mm cannon fire in a later upgrade.[6] This capability, designated as "Harvest HAWK" (Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit), can be used in scenarios where precision is not a requisite, such as area denial.[7]

The AN/AAQ-30 Targeting Sight System (TSS) integrates an infrared and television camera, and is mounted under the left wing's external fuel tank. It is the same TSS used on the upgraded AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter .[8] The typical loadout is four Hellfire missiles and 10 Griffin GPS guided missiles.[9] The weapons systems operator uses a Fire Control Console mounted on a standard cargo pallet in the KC-130J’s cargo compartment.[10]

The aircraft retains its original capabilities in refueling and transportation. The entire system can be removed in less than a day if necessary.[11] The USAF MC-130W Dragon Spear program uses a similar concept.

The USMC plans to acquire three kits per active-duty KC-130J squadron for a total of nine kits, each costing up to US$22 million.[12] It was first test flown on 29 August 2009 by VX-20, and first deployed in October 2010 with VMGR-352.[11]

Operational history

A VMGR-152 KC-130F landing at Dong Ha, Vietnam, in 1967.

The KC-130 has supported operations in the Vietnam War,the Falklands War for Argentina, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and other USMC operations over the last fifty years.

VMGR-252, Cherry Point, NC, was the first fleet squadron to transition to the KC-130J. Contrary to most military squadrons when they transition to a new aircraft, VMGR-252 did not "stand down" to train and equip for the new airframe. Quite the contrary, they continued full time fleet support with their "legacy" Hercs until fully converted to the J model. This trend was continued by squadrons as they transitioned to the KC-130J.

In February 2005, VMGR-252 made the first operational combat deployment of the KC-130J when six aircraft were deployed to Al Asad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During this time VMGR-252 experienced many "firsts" with the new J model conducting aerial refueling, delivery of cargo and passengers, the first combat aerial delivery of supplies by any J model user (the USAF subsequently conducted aerial delivery in Afghanistan with their new J models later that year) and battlefield illumination. VMGR-252 maintained the sole KC-130J presence for a year while VMGR-352 took delivery of and transitioned to the J model. The semi-permissive threat environment and the state of the art defensive systems of the J model permitted it to operate over the battlefield, providing fuel for the jets close to the fight, verses the tanker being far behind the lines in relative sanctuary. On more than one occasion VMGR-252 aircraft came under fire from insurgents, as did VMGR-352 aircraft during subsequent deployments to Iraq.

In 2006, VMGR-252 and 352 shared a joint detachment in Iraq and this paradigm continued for a number of years. In the summer of 2006, VMGR-252 provided a two KC-130J detachment in support of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24MEU) to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus during the Lebanon/Israeli conflict that summer. Also during this time VMGR-252 began extensive operational training and tactics development with the new MV-22 Osprey, refining long range tanker procedures with the new tilt-rotor aircraft.

In Spring 2008, VMGR-252 again made KC-130J history by providing the KC-130J aircraft detachment to 24MEU as they reestablished the USMC presence in Kandahar, Afghanistan. This deployment experienced numerous great KC-130J successes conducting all manner of expeditionary type missions routinely landing at austere dirt runways, tactical aerial delivery of goods, and the traditional logistic support and refueling missions that are the hallmark of USMC KC-130 support.

KC-130J Harvest Hawk weapon launch markings in Afghanistan, 2011.

Though the USMC KC-130J's have left Iraq, a continuing KC-130J presence has now been maintained in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, with aircraft and crews provided by both VMGR-252 and 352 during different periods. In May 2009, the Okinawa based "SUMOS" of VMGR-152 provided two aircraft and crews to support the OEF presence. This was VMGR-152's first operational combat deployment since Vietnam, and they have been maintaining a continuing presence in Afghanistan with VMGR-352/252.

USMC KC-130J aircraft from VMGR-252 and 352 have additionally been deployed to Djibouti for operations in the Horn of African supporting counter-terrorist operations in the region. After the 2010 Pakistan floods, KC-130Js from USMC VMGR-352 squadron delivered over 200,000 pounds of cargo across Pakistan in support of flood relief efforts.[13]

The Harvest Hawk weapons system for USMC KC-130J aircraft began its first deployment during October 2010 in Afghanistan with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 (VMGR-352).[11] Its first weapons engagement was on 4 November supporting the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in Sangin. One Hellfire missile was fired and five enemy insurgents were killed. The battle damage assessment stated there were no civilian casualties or property damage during the fire fight.[9]

A KC-130J from the 26th MEU participated in a pilot rescue during Operation Odyssey Dawn.[14]


The VMGR-252 KC-130R 160625 (ex-USAF 77-0321) was retired in 2008.

Six C-130B models were modified into in-flight refueling tankers. 4 currently operating with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (all four to be upgraded to KC-130H standard), 2 with Indonesian Air Force.
Enhanced KC-130B, 46 built
Tanker variant of C-130H, 33 built
14 former USAF aircraft transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps.
Variant from C-130H, 28 built
Variant from C-130H-30, 2 built (source:
Variant from C-130J


Two VMGR-352 KC-130Js during a training exercise, February 2007.

 Argentina – Argentine Air Force
  • 1st Air Transport Squadron – El Palomar Air Base KC-130H
 Brazil – Brazilian Air Force
 Malaysia - Royal Malaysian Air Force
  • 4 KC-130T in service[15]
 Canada – Royal Canadian Air Force
 Israel – Israeli Air Force
 Italy – Italian Air Force
  • 46 Brigata Aerea, 2 Gruppo – Pisa-San Giusto operates 7 C-130J converted to KC-130J,[16] 1 lost to crash[17]
 Japan - Japan Maritime Self Defense Force
  • Japan bought six KC-130R aircraft that were retired and in storage. They are being refitted with new landing gear supports, cargo door supports, center wing rainbow fittings, and corrosion repair. In addition to structural modifications, the Japanese will receive thirty overhauled T56-A-16 engines and digital cockpit upgrades to include a digital GPS. Regeneration began in November 2012 and will be completed by Fall 2013. The JMSDF plan to use the aircraft for troop and cargo movement, humanitarian efforts, transport of senior leaders, and medical evacuation.[18]
 Indonesia – Indonesian Air Force
  • Skadron Udara 32 operates 2 KC-130B
 Kuwait – Kuwait Air Force
  • 3 KC-130J on order with an option to purchase three more[19]
 Libya - Libyan Air Force
  • 7 are on order
 Morocco – Royal Moroccan Air Force
  • Operates 2 KC-130H aircraft
 Saudi Arabia – Royal Saudi Air Force
  • 32 Sqn based at Prince Sultan Airbase (KC-130H)
  • 5 KC-130j on order
 Singapore – Republic of Singapore Air Force
  • 122 Squadron operates 4 KC-130B and 1 KC-130H. Upgraded by ST Aerospace with a new glass cockpit, avionics suite, and flight management system which makes the aircraft Global Air-Traffic Management (GATM)-compliant. The KC-130Bs will also receive an auxiliary power unit and environmental control systems in common with C-130Hs.[20][21]
 United States – United States Marine Corps

The KC-130T is still in service with the USMC Reserve, here VMGR-452.

Active duty squadrons:
Reserve squadrons:
 United States – United States Navy
  • VX-20, a combined USN / USMC squadron, operates 1 KC-130J used for testing and evaluation, and 3 KC-130R for refueling USN and USMC aircraft conducting tests at Patuxent River
  • VX-30 operates 3 KC-130F for refueling USN and USMC aircraft conducting tests on the NAVAIR Point Mugu Range; the KC-130Fs also conduct range clearing and safety surveillance

Specifications (KC-130J)

KC-130J Hercules Drawing.svg

Data from Lockheed Martin KC-130J Super Tanker fact sheet,[22]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4 (two pilots,one crew chief and one loadmaster are minimum crew)
  • Capacity: :* 92 passengers or
  • Payload: 42,000 lb (19,090 kg)
  • Length: 97 ft 9 in, 29.79 m (for C-130J-30: 112 ft, 9 in, 34.69 m)
  • Wingspan: 132 ft 7 in (40.41 m)
  • Height: 38 ft 10 in (11.84 m)
  • Wing area: 1,745 ft² (162.1 m²)
  • Empty weight: 75,562 lb (34,274 kg)
  • Useful load: 72,000 lb (33,000 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: up to 175,000 lb (79,378 kg); normal 155,000 lb (70,305 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 turboprop, 4,637 shp (3,458 kW) each
  • Propellers: Dowty R391 6-blade composite propeller, 1 per engine


  • Maximum speed: 362 knots (417 mph, 671 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 348 kn (400 mph, 643 km/h)
  • Range: 2,835 nmi (3,262 mi, 5,250 km)
  • Service ceiling: 28,000 ft (8,615 m) with 42,000 pounds (19,090 kilograms) payload
  • Takeoff distance: 3,127 ft (953 m) at 155,000 lb (70,300 kg) gross weight

See also


  1. "C-130J Hercules Tactical Transport Aircraft". Air Force Technology. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 First Lockheed Martin/USAF HC-130J Combat Rescue Tanker Rolls Out | Lockheed Martin[dead link]
  3. "The 1000th AE2100D3 Engine Makes First Flight on a New KC-130J Tanker".,-ge.html. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  4. [1][dead link]
  5. John Pike. "KC-130J". Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  6. "General James T. Conway on The Posture of the United States Marine Corps.". 14 May 2009. Retrieved 1 August 2010. 
  7. McCullough, Amy (1 June 2009). "Refuel and Fire". Marine Corps Times. 
  8. "From Hueys to Harvest Hawk: Ordnance Marine arms aircraft in Afghanistan" by Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington, DVIDS. 19 May 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hurla, Sgt Deanne (16 November 2010). "KC-130J Harvest Hawk takes on new role in Afghanistan". 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd) Public Affairs. DVIDS. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  10. "Harvest HAWK completes phase one testing here". Naval Air Systems Command. 26 April 2010. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Flurry, SSgt Christopher (1 April 2011). "KC-130J Harvest Hawk: Marine Corps teaches old plane new tricks in Afghanistan". 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd). Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan: United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  12. O'Quin, Cpl Christopher (11 September 2009). "Harvest Hawk mission kit brings new era in Marine aviation". 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. United States Marine Corps. 
  13. States, United. "Marine Corps KC-130 arrives in Pakistan | Flickr – Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  14. Lamothe, Dan (22 March 2011). "Details of Marines’ pilot rescue released". Marine Corps Times. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  15. "Order of Battle - Malaysia". 
  16. "Alenia Aeronautica: flight refuelling tests for the Eurofighter Typhoon with Italian Air Force C-130J tanker successfully completed". Alenia Aeronautica. 10 November 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  17. "Crashed Italian C-130J confirmed as modified tanker". Flight International. 24 November 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  18. Sale Gives New Life to Excess C-130s -, March 7, 2013
  19. "Lockheed Martin Awarded Contract for Kuwait Air Force KC-130J Tankers.", 27 May 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  20. Gary Parsons (21 September 2010). "Singapore gets first upgraded C-130". Key Publishing. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  21. Greg Waldron (12 November 2010). "Singapore's C-130 upgrade makes progress". Flight International. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  22. "Fact sheet: KC-130J Super Tanker" Lockheed Martin, October 2009 Retrieved: 3 October 2010.

External links

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