The MC-130E Combat Talon I and MC-130H Combat Talon II provide infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces and equipment in hostile or denied territory. Secondary missions include psychological operations and helicopter and vertical lift air refueling.
Both aircraft feature terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radars capable of operations as low as 250 feet in adverse weather conditions. Structural changes to a basic C-130 include the addition of an in-flight refueling receptacle and strengthening of the tail to allow high speed/low-signature airdrop. Their navigation suites include dual ring-laser gyros, mission computers, and integrated global positioning system. They can locate and either land or airdrop on small, unmarked zones with pinpoint accuracy day or night.
An extensive electronic warfare suite enables the aircrew to detect and avoid potential threats. If engaged, the system will protect the aircraft from both radar and infrared-guided threats.
Both the MC-130E and MC-130H are equipped with aerial refueling pods to provide in-flight refueling of special operations forces and combat search and rescue helicopters and vertical lift assets.
The primary difference between the MC-130E and MC-130H involves the degree of integration of the mission computers and avionics suite. The Combat Talon I was conceived originally and developed during the 1960s, and although extensively upgraded in the 1980-90s it still features analog instrumentation and does not fully integrate the sensors and communications suites. The Combat Talon II, designed in the 1980s, features an integrated glass flight deck which improves crew coordination and reduces the crew complement by two.
The MC-130E Combat Talon first flew in 1966 and saw extensive service in Southeast Asia, including the attempted rescue of Americans held at the Son Tay prisoner-of-war camp in 1970. Also, the MC-130E landed in the Iranian desert in April 1980 in support of Operation Eagle Claw, the attempt to rescue American hostages held by Iran.
The MC-130E saw combat in Grenada in 1983, delivering U.S. Army Rangers to Point Salinas Airfield in the opening moments of Operation Urgent Fury, and subsequently performing psychological operations leaflet drops. In 1989 they led the joint task force for Operation Just Cause in Panama, helping to seize the airfield at Rio Hato.
In 1990, MC-130Es were employed in Operation Desert Storm, where they dropped 11 BLU-82 15,000-pound bombs and more than 23 million leaflets in a highly effective effort to encourage Iraqi soldiers to surrender. They also conducted numerous aerial refuelings of special operations helicopters with combat search and rescue operations.
The MC-130H Combat Talon II first arrived at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 29, 1992, and after acceptance testing, began official flying operations Oct. 17, 1992. Since then, the MC-130H has played a vital role in AFSOC operations. Some of the aircraft's highlights include the evacuations of non-combatant Americans and other civilians from conflicts in Liberia in 1996. Also, in 1998, a Combat Talon II aircrew was awarded the Mackay Trophy for the involvement in the evacuation of civilians from the Republic of the Congo (1997); and they participated in combat operations in the Balkans during Operation Allied Force.
In 2001, MC-130Hs were employed to seize an airfield in southern Afghanistan delivering U.S. Army Rangers to commence ground operations in Operation Enduring Freedom and later in 2003, the MC-130H was the first US aircraft to land at Bagdad International to initiate missions supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since Oct 2001, both aircraft have been used extensively in Operations Enduring, Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, and Iraqi Freedom in a variety of roles.