SOCOM Dusts Off Floatplane Concept For Sea-Based MC-130J

C-130J floatplane concept
An image of a C-130J floatplane concept appeared in a SOCOM official's presentation on May 19.
Credit: SOCOM

A decades-old concept for a floatplane version of the Lockheed Martin C-130J has reemerged as a possibles option for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). 

An “amphibious MC-130J” appeared on a slide of research and development (R&D) initiatives now underway within SOCOM’s program executive office for Fixed Wing aircraft (PEO-FW). 

Col. Ken Kuebler, the head of PEO-FW, presented the slide on May 19 during the virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference as an opportunity for SOCOM increase the operational flexibility of the 164,000-lb. airlifter. 

The idea would “take an MC-130J and take off and land in water or on land on the same mission,” says Kuebler. “So think about how that would expand the competitive space.”

It was not immediately clear after Kuebler’s presentation how far the R&D initiative has progressed within SOCOM.

“As always, Lockheed Martin stands ready to support SOCOM as it continues to explore expanding the capabilities of its [special operations forces] fleet,” a Lockheed spokeswoman said. 

The idea has existed in Lockheed’s vault of one-off conceptual design studies involving the C-130 for generations. 

In the mid-1990s, the Naval Air Warfare Center pursued developing a modification kit to add floats to the C-130J, but the concept was dropped by 1998. 

Thirty years earlier, the Navy commissioned Lockheed to study a sea-based version of the C-130 with a seaplane-like keel instead of floats. Lockheed experimented with remote control, subscale models of a C-130A seaplane, but the idea never progressed further. 

Most recently, an Australian company, Tigerfish Aviation, marketed a concept for a set of semi-retractable floats for C-130s.

Over the years, Lockheed also has proposed a sea-based version of the C-130 that could operate from an aircraft carrier instead of a runway on land. 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.


It would be less expensive to buy US-2s from Japan for a niche capability.
Why not go with a floating body like a catalina, perhaps with a retractable hydrofoil lift system?