The Royal Australian Air Force has begun flight trials for the fleet of C-130J Super Hercules airlift aircraft equipped with the Northrop Grumman Litening sensor pod.
Flight trials have begun for a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules transport aircraft equipped with a Northrop Grumman Litening sensor pod.
Mounted on a pylon underneath the wing of the Hercules, the AN/AAQ-28(V) Litening pod is capable of recording video in day and night-time conditions, and includes a forward-looking infrared camera.
Air Commodore Carl Newman, Commander Air Mobility Group, said the trials would examine the Litening pod’s utility for different Hercules missions: “Historically, RAAF Hercules crews have relied on radio, instruments and their own senses to understand the environment.”
The trial will also pair the Litening pod with a satellite communications antenna on the Hercules, which is expected to allow high-definition video to be shared with ground-based units or a headquarters.
“This trial will examine how the Litening pod can improve crew situational awareness to mitigate mission risks. For example, the Litening pod could help us maintain contact with survivors during search and rescue operations, or examine conditions at an airfield or drop zone prior to delivering cargo or personnel,” AIRCDRE Newman explained.
Airbus Australia Pacific designed the integration and performed the installation of the pod and pylon onto the aircraft, with assistance from Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
The Litening pod was originally acquired by the RAAF as a targeting sensor for the F-18A/B Hornet; however, its targeting function will be disabled while fitted to the C-130J.
Flight trials began on 17 January, with the Hercules flown without the Litening pod so that the flight test team could establish the aircraft’s baseline performance.
The first flight with the pod installed occurred on 29 January.
The flight test team will examine how the pod’s installation affects the Hercules’ performance in a range of conditions. The trials will also examine the functionality of the pod.
The RAAF is only the second air force in the world to mount the Litening pod on a C-130 Hercules, following trials by the Arkansas Air National Guard in the United States.
The trial is being conducted using C-130J A97-448, which has been fitted with a number of systems under Air Force’s Plan Jericho.
The aircraft is the first of six Hercules to receive a high-speed satellite communications antenna and is also receiving an augmented crew station in the cockpit to operate systems including the Litening pod.
“A97-448 will allow us to explore how the Hercules and wider air mobility fleet will support operations as part of a fifth-generation Air Force,” AIRCDRE Newman said.
“For air mobility, that means the ability to gather and share greater amounts of information within a battlespace, enabling better decision making for the crew, embarked forces and other supporting units.”
Litening is the only targeting pod in the US Department of Defense inventory that provides dedicated infrared, visible and laser apertures; an active short wave infrared sensor to enhance combat identification; and high-definition digital video to the cockpit.
Litening is in service with all components of the combat Air Force, the Marine Corps and several international customers, including the Royal Australian Air Force and its fleet of Classic Hornets.
Through its 24/7 logistics support program, Litening maintains an availability rate in excess of 95 per cent. The pod has been integrated on a wide range of platforms, including AV-8B, A-10, B-52, C-12, C-130, F-15, F-16, F-18 and MQ-9.
Northrop Grumman was contracted in 2015 to provide in-service support for the RAAF’s Litening pods installed on the Hornets.
The contract was the second four-year extension of the agreement between the RAAF and Northrop Grumman. Under the terms of the award, Northrop Grumman will continue to provide in-service support for the RAAF’s Litening targeting pods and data links at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernisation to government and commercial customers worldwide.