F-35 & KC-130: A Proven Partnership

F-35 and KC-130 Proven Partnership Lockheed Martin photographer Liz Luts captures a KC-130J, F-35 aerial refuel.

At first glance, the F-35 Lightning II fighter and the KC-130J Super Hercules tanker may not have a lot in common. The F-35 is engineered for unrivaled stealth, speed, and unmatched situational awareness, while the KC-130J is known for its proven ability to lead aerial refueling missions, and transport supplies and Marines. A specialized version of the KC-130J provides an armed intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capability. The only time these seemingly opposite aircrafts cross paths is during refueling rendezvous at altitudes generally more than 20,000 feet high.

However, a closer look at the F-35 and KC-130J reveals the two aircraft have more in common than you may realize. These aircraft — which share Lockheed Martin’s rich history — have lineages that intertwine both in the air and on the ground.

Strap in as we explore the extensive, but sometimes quiet, camaraderie between the F-35 and KC-130J.

Multirole, Multimission Capabilities
The F-35 represents the next generation of fighter aircraft technology. These 5th Generation, multirole fighters seamlessly merge advanced stealth capabilities, fighter aircraft maneuverability and unprecedented avionics to offer pilots real-time access to battle space information. The aircraft’s fully fused sensors ensure optimum survivability, provide pilots with 360-degree situational awareness and bolster mission success probability for the pilots flying the F-35 into combat.

Whether engaged in electronic warfare, air-to-surface or air-to-air combat missions, the F-35’s datalinks enable pilots to securely share real-time battlefield information with other aircraft and operation centers, providing the entire fleet with a unique advantage in the air and on the ground. The F-35 is not just simply a 5th Generation fighter, it is a force multiplier that will enhance coalition operations among military services and nations.

Let’s turn it over to the battle-tested KC-130J, the global leader in aerial refueling. When an F-35 pilot embarks on a long-range mission or simply a long ferry flight, the Marine aircrew makes the KC-130J a required pit stop. With a whopping 57,000 pounds of fuel available for offload, the KC-130J can simultaneously refuel two fighter aircraft at 300 gallons per minute. The KC-130J empowers military forces to fly longer and improve combat readiness.

However, the KC-130J’s job does not end there. Remember, at the heart of every KC-130J is a C-130 Hercules, the world’s most prolific aircraft platform. To date, C-130s have been built or modified to support upwards of 100 different missions. The C-130J is the current Hercules production variant and supports 17 different missions to date. There’s a reason why it’s been said that when you buy a C-130, you get a fleet.

KC-130J Production

Like its C-130 brethren, the KC-130J plays many roles. It is a battle-tested cargo aircraft capable of conducting rapid ground refueling operations for aircraft and tactical vehicles. It also provides tactical medical evacuation, pathfinder support and battlefield illumination. Its multi-sensory image reconnaissance capabilities provide troops on the ground with an increased capacity to accomplish mission-critical objectives with high-fidelity intelligence. The KC-130J is the latest in a long lineage of proven KC-130 Hercules tanker technologies, building upon the tremendous technological and performance improvements inherent in the basic C-130J aircraft.

Global Assets
Both the F-35 and KC-130J are flown by multiple international operators, solidifying their global influence and reputation. The U.S. Marine Corps declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the F-35B in 2015, and the U.S. Air Force will declare IOC with the F-35A later in 2016. Including the U.S., six of the 12 partner nations are currently flying the F-35. The F-35’s influence also extends beyond the skies. The program directly contributes to the international economy, providing thousands of high-tech, sustainable jobs worldwide.

The U.S. Marine Corps is the largest operator of KC-130Js, using the aircraft for a variety of aerial refueling and reconnaissance missions. With more than 20,000 flight hours logged across six continents, the KC-130Js assigned to the Marines have earned a reputation as tactical workhorses that will complete any mission, anytime, anywhere. Other KC-130J operators include the U.S. Air Force (HC/MC-130Js  support tanking missions), Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), Kuwait Air Force and Royal Saudi Air Force.

F-35s Fly in Formation

Smooth Sailing

Believe it or not, both of these aircraft have landed on aircraft carriers! It may come to no surprise the F-35 has achieved this feat, but imagining the KC-130 performing this technical maneuver might take a bit more convincing. In 1963, a KC-130F (a predecessor to today’s KC-130J) executed 21 full-stop landings on the USS Forrestal, (CVA-59) setting a record for the largest and heaviest aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier. See for yourself below:

VIDEO: Click HERE to watch KC-130F landing.

One Company, One Team

The F-35 and KC-130J have a connection that runs even deeper, all the way to the production floor of Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, Georgia, facility. For more than 60 years, the Marietta team has built more than 2,500 C-130 Hercules, making it the longest continuously active military aircraft production line in history. Today, the team at Marietta continues to builds C-130Js, including the KC-130J configuration.

The same team proudly manufactures the F-35’s Center Wing Assembly (CWA). The CWA is a major structural component of the F-35 and represents about one-quarter of the jet’s fuselage. The folks at Marietta also play a key role in developing the F-35’s advanced stealth capabilities, applying specialized stealth coatings to the F-35 horizontal and vertical tail control assemblies.

Whether it’s manufacturing the KC-130J, or contributing to the 5th Generation F-35, the Marietta team plays a critical role in manufacturing aircrafts for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s breakthroughs.

KC-130J Production

A Sky-high Debut

Together, these two aircraft make their United Kingdom flying debut this July at Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Airshow. The F-35 and KC-130J will take the UK stage together to showcase the advanced, diverse capabilities the aircrafts offer.

After taking a closer look, the F-35 and KC-130J certainly have more in common than meets the eye. Whether they are meeting in the clouds for aerial refueling missions, supporting the needs of militaries around the world or leaving from opposite ends of the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics facility in Marietta, the F-35 and KC-130J play crucial roles in advancing the aviation industry and strengthening global security.