SOCOM Moves To Upgrade Radars For C-130 Gunships, Transports

U.S. Air Force Lockheed Martin AC-130
Credit: U.S. Air Force

U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is preparing to replace a multi-mode radar onboard Lockheed Martin C-130 gunships and transports with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) with advanced new features.

The AESA radar would be able to generate synthetic aperture radar maps and “Cat 1” targeting data—the highest level of targeting accuracy from a sensor in the U.S. military lexicon, a request for information (RFI) released on Jan. 25 says.

The same sensor also would upgrade SOCOM’s fleet of AC-130 and MC-130 aircraft with a ground moving target indicator mode, the RFI says.

The new radar would replace the Northrop Grumman APG-241, a multi-mode weather and navigation sensor that has been installed on the C-130 since the H-model series.

The AESA radar upgrade program follows another major sensor upgrade for the SOCOM C-130 fleet. The command had tried to modify the APG-241 to serve as a terrain-following/terrain-avoidance (TF/TA) radar but abandoned the plan nearly a decade ago. Instead, AC-130J Ghostrider and MC-130 Commando are being equipped with the APQ-187 Silent Knight, a Ka-band sensor for the critical TF/TA role.

Now, SOCOM’s C-130s will have a sensor that can generate targeting-quality data in any weather and track moving targets on the ground.

SOCOM’s latest spending plans, released last March, do not show any funding for such an upgrade, so the program is likely being proposed to Congress as a “new start” for fiscal 2025. 

Steve Trimble

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