LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. - The Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing has been tapped to be a major player in the development of a high-accuracy air drop and reconnaissance system, sending aircraft and aircrews to an Arizona test center.
Two Arkansas C-130H aircraft, two aircrews and 14 maintainers from the 189th Airlift Wing are part of the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center's (AATC) LITENING pod program, which aims to adapt existing targeting technology to eventually provide incredible high-altitude air drop accuracy. The Arkansas Air National Guard aircraft and personnel are at the Tucson Air National Guard Base for approximately six months in 30-day rotations, which began in late January.
“The 189th is providing two aircraft that are unique to the C-130H fleet because they were previously modified to carry external pylons,” explained Lt. Col. Matt Baugher, the AATC’s C-130 program manager. “This saved the program about $1 to 1.5 million."
“The 189th is also providing some of the best, most highly-qualified aircrew and maintainers in the C-130 community to fly and maintain the aircraft while they are in test,” said Baugher.
“The 189th people will primarily be executing flight test, and flying missions with AATC flight test engineers. This includes airdrop, assault landings, and low-level and high-level formation operations,” explained Baugher.
At the center of the program is the Northrop Grumman LITENING targeting and sensor system, a futuristic-looking torpedo-like pod usually deployed on combat aircraft for precision guided munitions. The pod is mounted externally and is a multi-sensor targeting and surveillance system that includes a cockpit-mounted interface that looks like something out of a "Star Wars" movie.
“For now, we are evaluating its use as a tool to aid in drop zone identification, geo-coordinate generation and confirmation, and to track dropped bundles,” said Baugher. “In the future, we will add a wind-sensing laser to the LITENING pod, which will be the largest step to prove high altitude drop accuracy."
“The Arkansas crews will be assisting in the development and writing of new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that will make effective use of the LITENING pod and data link upgrades,” explained Baugher. “They will be flying test sorties right alongside aircrews from the AFRC’s 440th Airlift Wing, the Georgia Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Wing and the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing.”
According to Baugher, the 189th stepped up to the plate alongside of the 179th Airlift Wing from Mansfield, Ohio.
“The 179th also contributed an aircraft and aircrews to the test effort, but that aircraft is being readied for deployment and unavailable for further testing,” said Baugher.
“I’m very much into supporting the AATC mission,” said Maj. Gen. Mark H. Berry, the adjutant general of Arkansas. “The people at AATC can do great things, especially with help from the field. We’re excited to be a part of this important program.”
According to Col. Joe Wilson, vice commander of the 189th Airlift Wing, the LITENING pod program is part of an ongoing modernization effort for the Air National Guard’s legacy C-130 aircraft.
“Not only can it work for accurate air drops, it can be used for state missions when there are natural disasters or state emergencies,” said Wilson.
“This goes to our future viability and growth, and to our important domestic operations mission,” explained Wilson. “The pod will be able to provide real-time data link and imagery to our Military Emergency Operations Center (MEOC). A LITENING pod equipped C-130 can loiter over the site of a natural disaster and provide critical information to responders in the area.”
According to Wilson, the 189th is slated to have two operational LITENING pod systems by early 2017.
“By volunteering for this mission the 189th is leading the way for the legacy C-130 community,” said Baugher. "Our aircraft must be upgraded to remain relevant and capable. With the leadership demonstrated by the 189th, we’ll be able to modernize our fleet, remain viable into the future and provide new capabilities never before thought possible in the C-130 community.”