RAAF begins Litening Pod trials on C-130J

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has started flight-trials of the Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28(V) Litening sensor pod on a C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical transport.

Trials are being conducted using C-130J-30, registration A97-448 (c/n 5448), belonging to No 37 Squadron at RAAF Base Richmond, New South Wales. The unit is working with the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) with support from the Air Warfare Engineering Squadron from the base during the trials.

A97-448 is being used for the trials as it has been fitted with several systems under the RAAF’s Plan Jericho. The plan aims to achieve and maintain a fifth-generation combat advantage using autonomous processing, advanced sensors, human-machine augmentation and a combat cloud. The aircraft is also the first of six C-130J-30s to be integrated with a high-speed satellite communications (SATCOM) antenna, along with an enhanced crew station in the cockpit to operate new systems and sensors, such as the Litening pod.

RAAF C-130J Litening Pod [Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL David Said]
The Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28(V) Litening sensor pod attached to A97-448 during flight trials in January 2020. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL David Said

Australia originally acquired the Litening pod as a targeting sensor for RAAF-operated F/A-18A/B Hornet multirole fighters. However, when employed by the air arm’s C-130J-30 aircraft, the pod’s targeting function will be disabled.

Air Cdre Carl Newman, commander of the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group, said: “Historically, RAAF Hercules crews have relied on radio, instruments and their own senses to understand the environment. This trial will examine how the Litening pod can improve crew situational awareness to mitigate mission risks."

“For example, the Litening pod could help us maintain contact with survivors during search and rescue operations or examine conditions at an airfield or drop zone prior to delivering cargo or personnel," he added.

Flight trials began on January 17, with the C-130J-30 being flown without the pod fitted so the flight test team could establish the aircraft’s baseline performance. The first flight with the pod installed took place on January 29.

Litening pod C-130J RAAF [Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL David Said]
The Litening pod attached to a pylon on the port-side wing of A97-448. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL David Said

The pod is mounted on a pylon underneath the aircraft’s port-side wing and can record video both in day and night-time conditions. It also features a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera.

During the trials, the pod will be paired with the A97-448’s SATCOM antenna to test the ability of sharing high-definition video with ground-based units and headquarters. The flight test team will also examine the pod’s installation effects on the C-130J-30’s performance and the pod’s functionality in a range of different conditions.

“A97-448 will allow us to explore how the Hercules and wider air mobility fleet will support operations as part of a fifth-generation air force… For air mobility, that means the ability to gather and share greater amounts of information within a battlespace, enabling better decision-making for the crew, embarked forces and other supporting units," Newman concluded.

In conducting these tests, the RAAF has become the second user to mount the Litening pod on a C-130, after the Arkansas Air National Guard mounted the pod on two of its C-130Hs.

A97-448 Litening Pod Takes-Off [Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL David Said]
A97-448 takes off for flight testing with Litening pod attached. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/Cpl David Said