More on the Philippine Air Force C-130T Acquisition: Is the PAF Acquiring Aerial Refueling Tanker?
|PAF and US officials during the 2nd inspection of C-130T aircraft at Fort Worth, Texas.|
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.
Upon further checking with open sources, it appears that the said aircraft (#022) is not a US Navy aircraft C-130T as earlier expected, but is a US Marine Corps unit, with tail number 163022, and is actually a KC-130T multipurpose transport-tanker aircraft. It is also assumed that the second aircraft may also be the same type and may come from the same source. A second photo from the press release also showed the interior of one of the aircraft being inspected, and it does not have the updated glass cockpit done on the US Navy C-130T aircraft. Too bad that the photos provided by the US Embassy in the Philippines did not show the wing portion to confirm if the underwing refueling pod are still there.
|More photos from the inspection of aircraft no. 022. Note the analog cockpit on the aircraft, whereas the expected US Navy aircraft were already modified to use glass cockpit types.|
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.
These KC-130T are actually former C-130H aircraft converted to be aerial refueling-capable in support of US Marines air operations. Open sources like C-130.net indicated that the 163022 was built in 1984, and was modified to be able to carry the probe-and-drogue refueling system which is currently used by the US Marines aviation assets like the F/A-18C/D Hornet and AV-8B Harrier as well as CH-53 Super Stallion large helicopter series. This is the same system used by the Saab's JAS-39 Gripen. But this system is different from those used by the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle fighters, which uses the Flying Boom system. (More of these can be found in open sources for further information.)
|KC-130T "022" with the wing-mounted aerial refueling system on the far end of the wings.|
Photo taken from usamimi.info website.
Being KC-130T Means....
For the uninitiated readers, the "K" in the KC-130T designation means it is a tanker-capable aircraft in US military parlance. So it means the Philippine Air Force is acquiring an aerial refueling capable aircraft. BUT it doesn't necessarily mean the PAF is acquiring tanker aircraft.
What's the difference?
The KC-130Ts (or we can currently call C-130T until further notice) might be aerial refueling-capable aircraft, but it is still unknown and unconfirmed if the deal to acquire them include having the refueling system intact and usable upon the aircraft's hand-over to the PAF. But not having the aerial refueling system does not mean the PAF cannot have them in the future. With the aircraft already made to be capable of such, any future decision by the PAF to return the aircraft to tanker-capable status is very much possible and easy, as compared to other C-130 aircraft without this current capability.
|A KC-130 probe and drogue underwing refueling pod. The PAF may opt to have the aerial refueling system retained when they acquire the USMC C-130T.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Having them retained, which is very much possible, means that the PAF will be having an added capability of aerial refueling, a first in its history.
How About Transport Missions?
Being a multi-purpose transport aircraft, it will retain its cargo-carrying capability for other purposes, including Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. This is possible by removing the fuel tank system in the cargo hold, in which the KC-130 can easily be converted from a tanker aircraft to a standard transport aircraft, with almost the same load and space capacity as a regular C-130 Hercules. The underwing refueling pod can remain even when doing transport duties.
Why Need for an Air Refueling Tanker Capability?
The Philippine Air Force currently has no aircraft capable of aerial refueling. But they can use the aircraft to train the organization in tanker and aerial refueling operations in anticipation of future requirements. Training early is actually good as it takes time to learn and master this system, and doing it early gives them this needed time to learn and be capable of using the system well by the time the first aerial refueling receiving aircraft arrive in PAF's inventory. This can be done by having aerial tankers participate to support US military aircraft during joint US-Philippines military exercises like Balikatan, while doing standard military and HADR transport missions. Its rapid fuel transfer system can also be used in ground operations when necessary, which can be both applicable in combat and HADR support operations.
Some of the incoming new assets for the PAF can be specified or modified to be capable of receiving fuel using probe-and-drogue aerial refueling. This includes the Airbus C-295 medium tactical transport aircraft, and probably the KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle lead-in fighter trainers. Particularly for the FA-50 with its limitations in terms of range, endurance, and load capacity, having the capability of aerial fueling can extend its reach and enable it to carry more at long distances like in the possible conflict areas in the West Philippine Sea. Future maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), airborne early warning & control aircraft (AEWC), and multirole fighters (MRF) that the PAF aspires to acquire in the next few years can also benefit from such capabilities, especially with these assets are also expected to operate in the vast Philippine EEZ and ADZ.
|With its small size, MaxDefense believes that the FA-50 Fighting Eagle must be given the capability to refuel on air, with installing a refueling probe system. It is possible that the PAF has already considered this requirement.|
So, is the PAF acquiring aerial refueling tankers? Possibly, but still unconfirmed. But even if the PAF won't be getting the aircraft with the aerial refueling system intact, this is the closest they can get from having one, as making them have one is due to the inherent capability the aircraft already have for as long as support and budget is provided. So why not? Here are some examples of which platforms are compatible with the KC-130's probe-and-drogue system:
|So let's see, who can use the probe-and-drogue aerial refueling system of the KC-130?|
The Gripen can....
|...Super Hornets also can use them....|
(Photo taken from chinalakealumni.com)
|...legacy F/A-18C Hornets also are compatible...|
(Photo taken from Wikimedia)
|...even the C-295 is OK with it!|