News: KC-130J Harvest Hawk takes on new role in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Deanne Hurla
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DWYER, Afghanistan – Since 2003, KC-130Js have played a vital role in transporting coalition forces and cargo throughout Helmand and Nimroz provinces; however, the latest KC-130 to enter the area is providing a new kind of support.
The KC-130J “Harvest Hawk” of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), has all the same capabilities of a KC-130J “Hercules,” but the Harvest Hawk carries four Hellfire and 10 Griffen GPS guided missiles and houses an infrared and television camera.
Its mission is to provide close air support, conduct intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance missions and find improvised explosive devices.
“This aircraft is not traditional – yet,” said Maj. Marc Blankenbicker, a fire control officer for the Harvest Hawk.
There is only one Harvest Hawk operating in Afghanistan, and it is used to fill the gaps where coverage from other aircraft isn’t available; it operates in a role similar to that of an F/A-18, explained Blankenbicker, who is originally from Avon, Conn.
Though the Harvest Hawk only began its first deployment in October, it has already had its first weapons engagement Nov. 4.
“We supported [3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment] in Sangin when they were in a fire fight,” said Blankenbicker. “We shot one Hellfire missile, and the battle damage assessment was five enemy [killed in action].”
The assessment also stated there were no civilian causalities or property damage during the fire fight.
Using the Harvest Hawk, VMGR-352 Marines have already found at least three IEDs near 3/5’s area of operation and in support of other coalition forces.
Missions such as these are aiding the VMGR-352 Marines to build relationships with ground forces that may be skeptical of the KC-130’s new abilities.
“There wasn’t time to teach battalions what we are capable of so a lot of it has been real time, and everyone has been really receptive,” Blankenbicker said. “It’s a matter of a little bit of education and a little bit of getting to know each other.”
“When we first get [overhead], the [ground forces] ask what our capabilities are, but after having worked with them for a while, they’ve gotten used to it,” added Capt. Joel Dunivant, a Harvest Hawk aircraft commander. “From what we’ve been told, the guys really like working with us. We’re taken seriously, we’re professional and we’ve got the time to sit there and dig thoroughly into what’s going on, on the ground.”
Marines and other coalition forces are all making the adjustment to having a KC-130J in the combat role, and according to the pilots, the transition is going smoothly.
“On a standard day, we arrive on station and talk to the forward air controllers attached to battalions to see what is going on,” Blankenbicker said. “While we’re on hand, we use our cameras to look at villages, watch pattern of life and assess what is going on in the [area of operation] at that time. If they get into some kind of conflict with the enemy forces, then we are available to provide close air support with our weapons systems.”
Using the added capabilities, the Harvest Hawk is able to provide support to two or three ground units for up to three hours each time it flies.
The aircraft is kept at a medium altitude above ground level and can work alone or in conjunction with UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1W Cobras, added Dunivant, who is originally from Boise, Idaho.
Other than operating in a combat role, there are only slight differences between the Harvest Hawk and the Hercules. The four Hellfire missiles on the left wing, the Griffen missiles, secured on the aircraft’s ramp and the addition of the camera are what make a Hercules the Harvest Hawk.
The KC-130J has provided transport and refueling capabilities throughout Regional Command (Southwest) and now provides the extra advantage of staying overhead for longer than any other aircraft operating in the region. The Harvest Hawk provides accurate and effective combat offensive capabilities to support coalition forces on the ground through surveillance and overwatch.