Back in May during the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) said it was looking into the development of a plane that could take off from and land on water in support of special operations units. Now, the Air Force is moving ahead with plans for such an aircraft.

AFSOC wants to use the venerable MC-130J Commando II aircraft and equip it with pontoons. This will make one of the world’s most versatile aircraft frames even more so. AFSOC is planning to fly a prototype in the next 17 months. 

During SOFIC, Special Operations Command’s Program Executive Officer – Fixed-Wing Air Force Colonel Ken Kuebler said the engineering challenge would be difficult but the capability would create even more challenges for enemies in the near future.

“It just gives us a lot of capability as we look toward a great power competition,” Kuebler said.


Look to the 60s

Lockheed designed a C-130 amphibian “Hercules on Water” (HOW) back in the 1960s but never built it. HOW’s original design had called for a boat-like hull with outrigger pontoons. Now, the special operations community’s interest may call for those plans to be dusted off. 

C-130 Seaplane model
Lockheed built a model of an amphibious C-130 in the 1960s with a boat-like hull and outrigger pontoons. (Lockheed Martin)

AFSOC said that adding removable pontoons to the MC-130J will increase the aircraft’s versatility allowing it to land on lakes or close to shore thus freeing it from needing to land on a regular airstrip. 

AFSOC’s Deputy Division Chief for Science, Systems, Technology, and Innovation Lt. Col. Josh Trantham, said that the possibilities for use of an amphibian C-130 are nearly endless. “Seaborne operations offer nearly unlimited water landing zones, providing significant flexibility for the joint force.”