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Video: Inside a KC-130J Harvest Hawk Gunship

by John Reed on February 14, 2012

So the Marine Corps’ KC-130J Harvest Hawk has been around for a little while now. As you know, Harvest Hawks are KC-130J tankers equipped with plug and play air to ground missile and sensor systems allowing them to pinch hit as gunships for Marines on the ground, and they’ve been doing plenty of shooting in Afghanistan considering the amount of rockets painted on the fuselage of the Harvest Hawk shown in the video below. It provides a great view of the inside of the Marines’ latest gunships, showing the Hellfire rockets on the wings and the Griffin rocket launchers on the aft cargo ramp and all the leathernecks inside who fly the beast and operate the weapons and sensors.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

blight February 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm

And the ghosts of Spirit 03 cried out "watch out in daylight operations against opponents with air defenses!"

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Andrew February 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Yeah, these things are real tip of the spear.

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blight February 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Probably not, but someone will attempt it in a pinch, especially when it comes to loiter time.

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Tribulationtime February 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm

how cost fly-hour? 130M$ for carrie 4 hellfire & 8 griffin?. i hope she hold tanker role in the same sortie, doesn´t her?

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Bob February 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I'm sure that's cheaper then designing a brand new platform to do the same thing…And the 130 is something, along with the b-52 is a proven workhorse and has been a great return on investment. It was made to last unlike anything that this country produces now!

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John Moore February 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Seems like a waste or at least not cost effective.

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Musson1 February 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

The reason they are so expensive is that the Plug in Mission Module was originally designed for the Littoral Combat Ships!

You should see the C-130 with the LCS anti-sub torpedos.

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Lance February 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Awsome I like it. A sort of a AC-130 w/o cannon but with missiles cool.

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William C. February 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Weren't they going to fit these with a 30mm Mk.44 cannon?

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Dfens February 15, 2012 at 8:34 am

The latest plan is to have another contractor mount the 30mm chain gun on a pallet. That way all LM has to do is bolt the pallet to the floor. Even they can't screw-up that job, or that's what the Marines are hoping.

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blight_ February 15, 2012 at 8:39 am

It would too cheap to simply design the kits and have them assembled by units in the field…who could then improvise better fittings as needed.

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Dfens February 15, 2012 at 10:22 am

What they are trying to do is probably a good approach. It leaves LM on the hook if the floor of their planes can't take the loads as advertised.

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Brian May 10, 2012 at 9:03 am

The 30MM is goin gto be instled as well.

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stephen russell February 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm

should add Gun package for offensive role aside rockets & missiles.
Nice touch with fwd Vulcan cannon in nose.
Or 40mm cannon on side, just 1 set can Help.

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major.rod February 15, 2012 at 1:32 am

Well done Marines. I am envious of your ability to do end runs around the Air Force's effort to monopolize CAS. Now if only the Army could get it's own organic CAS platform!

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Dumb Grunt February 15, 2012 at 2:36 am

This is a wonderful addition to the versatility of the C-130. Cost is less than a AC-130 and it can be switched back to do cargo or mid-air refueling. Now it just needs a gun, hopefully soon. Real CAS again !!!

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TinkersDam February 15, 2012 at 4:29 am

Surely they can't be providing CAS from high altitude. No grunt would ever be satisfied with that! No sir, to do real CAS you have to get down in the weeds. Just check out any A-10 thread for confirmation.

Sarcasm aside, it's good to see this system working out. The Air Force might do well to take note- they've already deployed C-130s in the video surveillance role, this would be an almost-incremental step.

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tiger February 15, 2012 at 10:30 am

The folks in the weeds shoot back. Thus the loss of so many choppers. The A-10's days are fading. Those old horses have been rode hard & are headed to the bone yard.

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Sgt Slotter February 15, 2012 at 10:34 am

One question remains. Why the HELL didn't they do this sooner???

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itfunk February 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Typical Marine behavior: pick a perfectly good weapon from another service, complain that it's the wrong color and build a copy, half as effective and 7 times the price then generate huge amounts of PR claiming to have a unique disability .

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Thomas L. Nielsen February 16, 2012 at 2:19 am

"….half as effective and 7 times the price then generate huge amounts of PR …."

Please provide factual evidence of these statements, as related to the Harvest Hawk.

"….claiming to have a unique disability".

Does that need proof-reading, or do you actually mean what it says?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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M167A1 February 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm

neither funny nor correct.

Please do better next time.

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MRP March 25, 2012 at 9:07 am

They now have two capabilities from one platform. As a taxpayer, that is what I want; some ingenuity to stretch tax dollars. So you are advocating that they maintan seperate fleets of transports and gunships? That seems way to costly compared to this solution. I'm speculating you are from another service given your criticism and comments about their "PR." If so, please remember our people are in harm's way; there's no room for service rivalry.

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Tom September 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm

If they destroy a gun emplacement that's pounding our Marines it might just seem like a good idea. Typical Marine behavior (innovation, adapting to any situation)

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IKnowIT February 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm

But, uhhh, how much more does it cost to fire missiles than shoot the guns of the AC130? It sounds like a bad deal… but maybe I'm wrong. I assume the missiles are pretty darn expensive! And BOTH need support systems…

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Andrew February 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

The point is you can roll on the Griffins, shoot 10 targets, land and then roll them off. You can't exactly pop a 105 and a 40 in and out of place the same way and call it a day.

Yes they'd probably prefer AC-130s (and the money to buy them) but in this case, it's working with what you have.

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deathoflife February 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm

one SA-7,or one RPG, one dead KC130J…in the eyes of a insurgent….priceless

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William C. February 16, 2012 at 2:02 am

That guy would have to be the luckiest man on earth to hit and destroy one of these orbiting several thousand feet above with a RPG. You wouldn't want to deploy these around an enemy with MANPADS but the old SA-7 is easily fooled by flares and even if it hit there is a good chance it would only cause some non-critical damage.

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blight_ February 16, 2012 at 9:25 am

Spirit 03 got nailed by a SA-7. Or at least, that is the generally accepted story.

I imagine it was not for want of countermeasures, either…

And yes, with an RPG it is pretty much luck, though I think the self-destruct fuze will destroy the rocket before it gets close to an overhead loitering target.

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Mike February 16, 2012 at 8:41 am

Trying to pass as someone who knows what they are talking about………dangerous

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Shail February 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm

One of the key reasons the 30mm MK44 Bushmaster gun didn't replace the 40mm Bofors and 25mm GAU-12s in AC-130s was because of concerns of the gun's accuracy.
Multiple users of the same gun family mounted in armored ground vehicles will attest that the gun's accuracy isn't lacking in the least.
The accuracy issues were the fault of the engineers and integrators who rapidly designed an adhoc mount for the 30mm gun into the AC-130 for tests.
The mount wasn't optimized to fully compensate for all the gun's differences in various recoil impulses and other stresses, compared to the 25, 40, and 105mm guns already in service (none of which have ever been consistently condemned for any concerns of inaccurate fire on the target.

I haven't a clue why the sense of a common caliber (just 30, rather than both 25 and 40mm) didn't sink in, other than the fact that the F-35 can utilize the same 25mm ammunition types available. Those 40mm shells are very production-specific to AC-130s, and thus expensive.

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Punisher1 February 17, 2012 at 2:24 am

Hang on, We have some really over educated ( Did someone say a Harrier pilot?)people running this “gun ship” shooting really expensive missiles…. Er, I can understand the need to hit what you are aiming at, but man, that’s a bit pricey at $65,000.00 or so a pop. As compaired to 100 rounds of 20mm at $300.00 or 40MM at roughly the same cost or maybe even a 105 HE round at a respectable $250 per round

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M167A1 February 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Didn't the jarheads have a Bronco with a 20mm belly turret for a night gunship back in Gulf War 1?

a bit low and loud but dang that will keep haji's head down…

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blight_ February 17, 2012 at 11:32 pm

"The U.S. Marine Corps OV-10 Night Observation Gunship (NOGS) program modified four OV-10As to include a turreted forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor and turreted 20 mm (.79 in) M197 gun slaved to the FLIR aimpoint. NOGS succeeded in Vietnam, but funds to convert more aircraft were not approved. NOGS evolved into the NOS OV-10D, which included a laser designator, but no gun."

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Craig February 18, 2012 at 1:12 am

1. TSS is a piece of crap in this installation. Boresight issues, jitter issues, problems with the control software/hardware. Part 1* type deficiencies (FLIR is awesome, EO not so much).
2. Not as RO-RO as you might think. Requires modification of the plane.
3. Have to de-pressurize to shoot Griffin/Viper Strike. Solution requires more #2 – A special door launcher that goes in place of a paratroop door. Pretty slick, but further compromises the plane for other missions.
5. No usable external fuel. They evidently have put the fuselage tanks back in the HH birds.
4. Probably a 60% solution that never would have deployed as is if we weren't in a war.
5. The grunts evidently like it well enough, which is the ultimate compliment to the system.
6. A Herk certainly has more airframe life than an F-XX, so takes some burden off of them.
7. Gun keeps getting put off. It's evidently harder than it looks and the missiles work well enough.

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Jack Luz February 19, 2012 at 11:08 am

A gunship without guns. That would be pause for concern. I predict that this approach will not work. An AC-130 with 20mm/30mm rotary guns and 105mm/120mm cannon and the latest electronics not available on early model AC-130s would make sense.

Murphy's law in combat: What is not going to work, will not work.

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Kurt February 21, 2012 at 3:14 am

The AC-130 gunships have provided great service for a long time with their current configuration, just upgrade the fire control systems……job done, you all here are blinded by how smart you all think you are…..you’re not….simple is better, always has been. Real world experience tells you that….smh…

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Michael Varnal May 15, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Just a quick comment – why develop something that is already developed? Is the Air Force again failing to live up to it's dedication to CAS? And what about collateral damage? And finally in tightening military budgets is this a wise thing to do?

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Tom September 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Leave it to the USMC to put some ordinance on it. I can see some poor sucker ignoring it because it looks like a tanker just before their whole day goes to hell:-)

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blight_ February 15, 2012 at 8:40 am

It may be cheaper, but it takes longer to put an aircraft together. If we had to import parts from all over the world for WW2, the Soviets would've taken all of Europe by the time we were ready.

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tiger February 15, 2012 at 10:25 am

That is just how you do business today. Everybody gets to put on a screw. Don't like it? Then you don't sell any.

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bevel450 February 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Absolutely true ! International trade is just that…TRADE !

And by the way, it doesn't take a day longer to do it this way than if everything were actually manufactured in house

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mike February 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm

No, the Apache was designed and fielded to be an anti-armor maneuver element of its own, and NOT to be a close air support platform. Use it for close air support at your own peril. Their procedures for working close to friendly troops leavce much to be desired.

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blight_ February 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Close air support isn't about platforms, it's how you train and integrate it into your forces. It's not like the Cobra is any worse as a close support platform or the Hueys of Vietnam.

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Chuck February 23, 2012 at 4:49 am

Wrong, the AH-64 is fitted with a gun and can use 2.75mm rockets for CAS hopefully eventually turning the rockets into PGMs. Those rockets can shoot through windows at 5 km from low level, elimintating most older AAA threats. Of course the Army needs to move on this faster, but, ithas and always will be a great CAS asset.

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blight_ February 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm

The [nation X]'s want to "create jobs" back home, as the conditions for procuring.

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blight_ February 15, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I debate how many "free C-130s" the Marines would have on hand at any given moment.

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Riceball February 15, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Exactly and I think that some are forgetting that this is basically just a bolt on package meaning that it doesn't permanently turn the KC-130 into an AC-130. It means that when needed Marine Corps KC-130J's can be pressed into service as make shift gunships adding an additional capability to the Corp's KC-130s.

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