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 60,000 pound fuel capacity that it can allocate between its own flight requirements against aerial refueling offload capacity using its wing and external tanks while in the air. When more fuel is needed, an additional 24,392 pounds of fuel can be offloaded from a specially configured internal fuselage 3,600-gallon aluminum fuel 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 aircraft is ready to fuel fixed-wing, tilt-rotor, or rotary-wing aircraft using the standard probe and drogue technique. The two wing-mounted hose and drogue refueling pods (made by Sargent Fletcher) can 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).
The KC-130J also provides for rapid ground refueling of helicopters, vehicles and fuel caches. The aircraft has a unique propeller feathering feature (known as “hotel mode”) which can slow (at 25% rotation speed) the propellers while the turbines continue to run and energize the generator, providing power to the electric fuel pumps. 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 (4,018 pounds) per minute.
The U.S. Marine Corps has chosen the KC-130J 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. 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).
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. 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.
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 . The typical loadout is four Hellfire missiles and 10 Griffin GPS guided missiles. The weapons systems operator uses a Fire Control Console mounted on an HCU-6/E pallet in the KC-130J’s cargo compartment.
The aircraft retains its original capabilities in refueling and transportation. The entire system can be removed in less than a day if necessary. 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. It was first test flown on 29 August 2009 by VX-20, and first deployed in October 2010 with VMGR-352.
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/T (legacy) 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.
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.
- KC-130B : 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.
- KC-130F : Enhanced KC-130B, 46 built
- KC-130H : Tanker variant of C-130H, 33 built
- KC-130R : 14 former USAF aircraft transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps.
- KC-130T : Variant from C-130H, 28 built
- KC-130T-30 : Variant from C-130H-30, 2 built (source: http://www.airliners.net/photo/USA---Marines/Lockheed-KC-130T-30-Hercules/2166650/&sid=5951c5eac7ad46d6efdc40139e1a0cc4). These have been transferred to the U.S. Navy and converted to C-130T-30s.
- KC-130J : Variant from C-130J