News: Harvest HAWK weapons system adds offensive edge
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- For decades, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252’s KC-130s have served the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s logistical needs.
The squadron has begun to employ a new system, the Harvest Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit, giving VMGR-252 a new role in the fight it has always supported.
Beginning last October, VMGR-352, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, accepted, tested and fielded the Marine Corps’ first Harvest HAWK platform in combat. VMGR-252’s detachment in Afghanistan has employed the Harvest HAWK since January and continues its operations today. VMGR-252 accepted its first permanently assigned Harvest HAWK aircraft aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in June.
“The Harvest HAWK has a special mission kit on board the aircraft that provides it with the capability to deliver ordnance, specifically the Hellfire and the Griffin precision guided munitions,” said Lt. Col. Charles J. Moses, commanding officer of VMGR-252. “A normal C-130 doesn’t have the capability to conduct the multi-image reconnaissance or provide close-air support. Now this aircraft has that ability.”
The same qualities that make the KC-130 a good cargo aircraft also makes it capable of carrying out offensive missions, explained Capt. Thane A. Norman, a fire control officer for VMGR-252. KC-130s can carry a massive amount of fuel, enabling them to stay airborne for long periods of time. While airborne, they can be instructed to strike targets of opportunity or support troops on the ground.
One Harvest HAWK flew for about 10 hours and fired its entire compliment of Hellfire missiles during combat operations in Afghanistan, March 14.
An F/A-18 Hornet can only fly for an hour and thirty minutes without tanker support, according to Norman.
The squadron’s Marines don’t yet have the experience to carry out close-air support or reconnaissance missions. Before employing these weapons, the VMGR-252 Marines will have to train with the system.
“Right now, they don’t have the experience, so they’re pulling from all three communities; the Hornet, the Cobra and Harrier communities,” said Norman, formerly an F/A-18 weapons system operator. “We have one fire-control officer from each community and we’ll all work together to pool our resources to show the VMGR community how to effectively employ close-air support.”
VMGR-252’s leadership said the Marines seem eager to open a new realm of experiences with this new operational capability.
“Currently, we have a Harvest HAWK temporarily assigned to our detachment with 2nd MAW (Fwd.),” said Moses. “It provides coverage for eight to 10 percent of joint tactical air requests in their area of operations, which is a significant number considering it’s only a single aircraft. Now it’s added a new capability that doesn’t preclude us from doing our already assigned mission. It adds to the missions we can do, which provides more coverage for the Marines forward on the ground.”