Army weapon system a perfect fit for C-130 wing

  • Published
  • By Gene H. Hughes
  • 908th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The ground crew gathered around the large, green hulk of a vehicle as it sat on the Maxwell flightline, sizing up the metal beast for the task at hand: loading it on a C-130.

The 908th Airlift Wing had been requested to team with the U.S. Army and Lockheed Martin to transport a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to a location where new capabilities would be tested; capabilities that when coupled with those of the C-130, will save lives on the battlefield.

The HIMARS is a artillery rocket platform mounted on a five-ton truck that has seen use in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Although it has been in service with the Army and the Marine Corps for about a decade, it is being modified to cut down the amount of time necessary for personnel to put the system into action following its insertion by military aircraft.

According to Steve Gentry, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control contractor, in-flight initialization of the system would mean reduced time needed for fire-missions on the ground, allowing the launcher to provide fire against "time-sensitive, high-payoff targets of opportunity."

It would also reduce the launcher's vulnerability to enemy fire, increasing survivability of the personnel, system and the transport.

"The Hot Panel capability minimizes the time that is required to conduct these missions once offloading the launcher," said Major Michael Fitzgerald, HIMARS Assistant Product Manager. "This means mission accomplishment and lives saved. Minimizing enemy exposure to both the launcher and aircraft crews is one of the key benefits of this capability.

The fact that it can be carried on the C-130 adds to its utility as it can be transported to remote locations and employed quickly to react to time sensitive targets.

During the initial concept and design phase, special equipment was used to ensure the concept was feasible and to back it up with demonstrations. Changes were made to the software to allow the launcher to be loaded on the aircraft and powered down during most of the flight. Prior to landing, the launcher Fire Control System (FCS) is powered up, beginning initialization.

The navigation system then receives GPS data from the Joint Precision Air Drop System (JPADS) installed in the aircraft cargo bay, thereby finding its position and orientation with precision sufficient to fire any of the smart munitions in the Multiple Launch Rocket System arsenal.

According to Mr. Gentry, the HIMARS launcher was designed from the very beginning to be C-130 transportable, but at that time, the ability to initialize and navigate in flight was never considered. During the development and testing phase, the C-17 was the transport aircraft of choice, primarily due to its capability to carry two launchers. This allowed for increased testing opportunities not available using the C-130.

At the conclusion of C-17 testing, the Army's Precision Fires Rocket and Missile Systems and Lockheed Martin, the HIMARS contractor, decided it was time to test the results on the C-130 aircraft.

"Since that time, several changes have been made in both the C-130 and the HIMARS FCS which made this a real possibility," he said. "The most significant was the addition of JPADS to the C-130 fleet. Without this significant enhancement, the Hot Panel mission would not have been viable."

Testing the system was only one aspect of the day's events. The other was in the hands of the Wingmen. It wouldn't be easy, as the vehicle's formidable size left very little "wiggle room." It took a fair amount of maneuvering, but after a few minutes, the HIMARS and a team of U.S. Army and Lockheed engineers was sitting - quite snugly - in the cargo hold.

The Lockeed-Martin and Army team will have to analyze the data recorded during the flight tests. Hopefully, the results will show that the data is within allowable limits.

If they are, the program will culminate in a live-fire demonstration of a "real-world" scenario using soldiers rather than contractors. A C-17 and a C-130 will transport the system from Ft. Sill, OK to White Sands Missile Range where they will land, the launcher will roll off, shoot live rounds, load back onto the aircraft and make a hasty exit.

The object of the day's exercise, according to Maj. Fitzgerald, was to collect as much flight data as possible to confirm the accuracy of the HIMARS FCS for Hot Panel operations. When all was said and done, the mission was deemed another successful Army-Air Force teaming.

"Each branch of service has unique capabilities," he said. "The Air Force's ability to transport equipment and personnel around the battlefield and to locations that wheeled transport cannot go is imperative to deliver ground-based firepower in a timely manner.

"By working together we were both able to benefit. That is the true synergy of joint operations. We were able to collect all the data we needed to confirm the Hot Panel capability with the C-130, and the Reservists gained valuable training by loading and flying with such a large and unique piece or equipment."

Mr. Gentry and Maj. Fitzgerald agreed that every single airman and every officer they encountered at the 908th was outstanding.

"I have never worked with a more "can-do" group in my career," Mr. Gentry said. 
"Everyone involved did everything they could to make these flights successful and give our engineers the chance to get the data they needed to be able to validate this capability. I commend the 908th and look forward to working with them again in the future."