A second Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-130J Hercules, aircraft has been fitted with a high-speed satellite communications (SATCOM) system providing in-flight internet connection to crew and passengers.
RAAF is the first C-130J operator in the world to install the Ka-band SATCOM system in its fleet. The system allows live-streaming of high-definition (HD) video, and connectivity to headquarters and other nodes around the world.
The latest aircraft to have the system installed was C-130J A97-467. The first C-130J, A97-468, was equipped with the antenna and associated avionics equipment in late 2017, and a total of six aircraft will receive the upgrade.
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,” Air Commodore Newman said. “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. Equipping our Hercules with high-speed SATCOM allows control elements, crew and embarked forces alike to conduct mission planning while the C-130J is en route, sending and receiving updates in real time.”
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 new 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.
The modification is undertaken by Airbus Australia Pacific at RAAF Base Richmond, utilizing an antenna provided by Honeywell and connectivity to the Inmarsat network. 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.
Air Commodore Newman thanked industry partners for their support in delivering the upgrade.
“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,” he said. “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, RAAF conducted a trial to remotely pilot an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) 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 West Pacific atoll.
The Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules, called just C-130J Hercules in RAAF service, is a medium-sized tactical airlifter which can deliver cargo to airfields with short unsurfaced runways, and airdrop cargo and paratroops by parachute. The C-130J can also be used in other roles, such as Search and Survivor Assistance and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) of wounded or sick patients.
The aircraft can carry up to 128 passengers, or eight pallets of cargo, and can work alongside RAAF’s other transport aircraft, including the Alenia (Leonardo) C-27J Spartan tactical airlifter and the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifter.