As The War Zone
noted in our initial coverage of the MC-145B, both of these systems are heavily geared toward defeating higher-end integrated air defense networks, something that seemed well beyond the scope of SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch effort. The JASSM plans only further underscore that SNC is pitching the aircraft as a more robust platform that could have broader applications.
The Wily Coyote “can also do other missions that aren’t even captured in the [Armed Overwatch] requirements,” Williams, SNC’s Vice President of Aviation Strategic Plans and Programs, said in the recent promotional video. The company has also been focusing heavily on other multi-mission capabilities that the MC-145B offers, including its ability to airdrop cargo and act as a casualty evacuation platform, compared to the other Armed Overwatch entrants, all of which are smaller, single-engine designs. SNC, which is also supplying A-29B Super Tucano light attack aircraft to the Air Force in cooperation with Brazil’s Embraer, says that it looked at 44 different aircraft before ultimately settling on a converted M28 Skytruck for its Armed Overwatch submission.
It’s also worth noting that AFSOC has been heavily involved in Air Force testing of palletized munition concepts in recent years, a program now known as Rapid Dragon. In June, the service disclosed that an MC-130J Commando II special operations tanker-transport had simulated the launch of a pallet load of JASSMs after receiving targeting information from offboard platforms during the most recent iteration of the biennial Northern Edge exercise. Last year, the service had also revealed an earlier test that involved a previously unknown prototype munition design called the Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicles with Extended Range, or CLEAVER.
The Rapid Dragon concept, broadly, envisions AFSOC MC-130Js, as well as standard C-130 Hercules and C-17A Globemaster III airlifters, being able to rapidly shift from transports to stand-off strike platforms in support of higher-end operations. In principle, this would provide valuable additional flexibility and overall strike capacity at a relatively low cost. At the same time, questions have already been raised about how useful this new capability might actually be during large-scale operations where there are likely to be significant demands for moving personnel and materiel by air, especially amid existing concerns about shortfalls in airlift capacity.
SNC is certainly touting the potential for the MC-145B to provide an additional layer of flexibility and capacity in these kinds of scenarios. However, the aircraft’s value in this role could be limited by how many JASSMs, or other similarly large stores, it can carry at once and how readily it may be able to employ them, even in coordination with other assets providing the targeting information.
It will certainly be interesting to see whether or not the MC-145B’s ultimately has a future as a cruise missile-slinging platform in addition to its other capabilities.
Contact the author: [email protected]