KC-130J: a tactical gas station in the sky. Serving fighters, bombers, choppers. And maybe even F-35s sometime in the future.

Jan 12 2012 - 5 Comments

On Jan. 10, I had the opportunity to take part to a refueling mission of a KC-130J of the 46^ Aerobrigata (Air Brigade) of the Italian Air Force involving several combat planes. The tanker version of the Super Hercules launched from Pisa to refuel its receivers in a reserved airspace located above the Adriatic Sea, off Cervia airport.

Along with the KC-767A, the strategic tanker asset of the Italian Air Force, the KC-130J was extensively used during the Air War in Libya refueling all the Italian planes supporting NATO’s Operation Unfied Protector: Eurofighter Typhoons, Tornado IDSs and ECRs, and AMXs.

The same types that were refueled using the two wing-mounted hose and drogue pods during the mission I was invited to attend, as the small selection (of thousand images) below shows.

Considered its speed and ceiling, the aircraft is perfectly suitable for Helicopter Air to Air Refuelling (HAAR) and the Italian KC-130J has already been certified with the EH-101 Merlin and the French Air Force Eurocopter EC-725 ‘Super-Cougar’ (Caracal).

The Italian KC-130Js are identical to those of the USMC that, along with the already served F-18, AV-8B and V-22, have performed some plugs with the Lockheed Martin F-35B, the stealthy 5th generation combat plane, expected to replace the Marine’s Hornets and Harriers. Actually, the F-35B was expected to be ordered by the Italian Air Force and Navy, the latter to replace the AV-8B Harrier on board the Cavour aircraft carrier.

However, if not compelled to quit, Italy will probably reduce the expected number of ordered JSF, from 131 to no more than 100, as a consequence of the Defense spending review that will soon follow the austerity measures already approved by the “technocratic” Monti Cabinet.

Although the outcome of the Defense Review is almost unpredictable, a plausible hypothesis sees the Italian Air Force receiving about 80 F-35s (A and B variants) and the Navy 20 F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) combat planes.

In this case, there are some stealthy interesting receivers in the future of the KC-130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea.

Above image: Lockheed Martin

  • Are the F-35a any cheaper than the F-35b? If so a kind of trade off could be done – something like to “change” ten IAF f-35b for eleven or twelve f-35a

    • Yes, they are cheaper but the B variant is required unless Italy decides to leave the Cavour without fixed wing aircraft (and lose the maritime strike and air defense capability).

  • David, Do they have J-30s or are they all the original fuselage length?

    • As far as I know, although the ItAF has longer J-30s, only KC-130Js are used for air-to-air refueling ops.

  • Hello, the end game will see Eurojet EJ200/230-powered Sea Gripens replacing the former F-16 in Italian Navy and AF service. The JSF purchase will be dropped due to tremendous cost overruns. Gripens will be manufactured in co-operation with RUAG Suisse. Tornado and the AMX will be retired, leaving only EFA and Gripen “Eurocanards” in italian combat service. Slovenia and Croatia will also use the Gripen, leading co-operation of ops and basing. Americans and the french will be very angry.