The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and industry partner, Honeywell have successfully completed the installation of a high-speed, Ka-band satellite communications (SATCOM) system on a second C-130J Super Hercules, making Air Force the first C-130J Hercules operator in the world to install the Ka-band SATCOM system in its fleet.
The first C-130J was equipped with the antenna and associated avionics equipment in late 2017, and a total of six aircraft will receive the upgrade, this system upgrade allows live streaming of high-definition video, and connectivity to headquarters and other nodes around the world.
Commander Air Mobility Group Air Commodore Carl Newman said the high-speed SATCOM capability would allow aircrew and passengers to better respond during dynamic scenarios.
"Deploying a Hercules might require a flight of up to 10 hours and, in that time, the operating environment for both the crew and embarked joint capabilities could vary significantly. We often deploy the C-130J Hercules as a first responder for missions such as disaster relief, sending them to remote locations where communications infrastructure is often damaged or non-existent," Air Commodore Newman said.
Historically, crew and passengers on a Hercules have been limited to using HF radio for long-range communication while in flight. In 2015, Air Force began equipping its fleet of 12 C-130J Hercules with L-band SATCOM, which provided global voice and limited data connectivity.
The Ka-band capability substantially increases the bandwidth compared to L Band, enabling increased data transmission and simultaneous connections by multiple users.
Each Ka-band modification requires fitting a SATCOM antenna and fairing on the spine of the Hercules, along with equipment inside the cargo bay to provide local and wireless area networks. No. 37 Squadron, which operates Air Force’s fleet of C-130J Hercules from RAAF Base Richmond, will receive a third aircraft with the Ka-band SATCOM capability by April next year.
The modification is undertaken by Airbus Australia Pacific at RAAF Base Richmond, utilising an antenna provided by Honeywell and connectivity to the Inmarsat network.
AIRCDRE Newman added, "To deliver this upgrade, industry has supported Defence in acquiring an off-the-shelf SATCOM system, and integrated it into one of Air Force’s hardest-working aircraft. The first aircraft to receive the Ka-band antenna has had a range of missions that have benefited from this capability, and that has allowed us to explore new opportunities."
This year, Air Force conducted a trial to remotely pilot an Unmanned Aerial System using the Ka-band SATCOM antenna while the Hercules was in flight. In late 2017, the SATCOM was used during Operation Christmas Drop, live streaming video on Facebook during an airdrop of supplies to a remote western Pacific atoll.
The C-130J Hercules is a medium-sized tactical air-lifter which can deliver cargo to airfields with short unsurfaced runways, and airdrop cargo and paratroops by parachute.
A fleet of 12 are operated from RAAF Base Richmond by No. 37 Squadron. They were delivered to the base between 1999 and 2001.
The C-130J is an important air link for Australian Defence Force personnel overseas, with two aircraft deployed in the Middle East to provide assistance to medical treatment locations. The Australian Defence Force relies extensively on the C-130J when deploying personnel and aid.
Recent operations include:
- Op Queensland Flood Assist (2011);
- Op Philippines Assist (2013); and
- Op OKRA (2014), where C-130Js were used to airdrop humanitarian supplies to civilians in Iraq.
The C-130J Hercules can carry up to 128 passengers, or eight pallets of cargo. It can work alongside other airlifters, including the C-27J Spartan and C-17A Globemaster III. Upgrades to the C-130J have enhanced communications and information-sharing, and improved the aircraft's endurance during battle.
The C-130J Hercules can also be used in other roles, such as Search and Survivor Assistance and medical evacuation of wounded or sick patients.