The AC-130 Spectre gets a lot of the headlines.
This is a plane that kicks a lot of butt. But the Marine Corps has its own version. And theirs is far more versatile than the Spectre.
Let's get a closer look at the AKC-130J Harvest HAWK.
Now, before AC-130 fans prepare the flames, we have nothing but respect for the AC-130. With a 25mm GAU-12, a 40mm Bofors, and a M102 105mm Howitzer, the AC-130 can blast the hell out of just about any target.
It is a circling angel of death. J.R.R. Tolkien's Nazgul have nothing on the Spectre — and would be advised to learn their lesson from the Fellowship of the Ring when Arwen called in that flash flood: Don't bother running, you'll just die tired.
But the Harvest HAWK is more versatile. As GlobalSecurity.org points out, the AKC-130J started out as the KC-130J. This provided a number of benefits.
First, the Marines already had the airframes flying over Afghanistan to refuel their F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers that provided air support.
What makes the Harvest HAWK so lethal? It can carry (or drop) a variety of weapons. One of them is the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, the one commonly used on Predator drones to make the world a better place by blowing terrorists to smithereens.
With a range of five miles and a 20-pound warhead, this missile was intended to take out tanks. The Harvest HAWK carries four, usually on the left wing, according to a 2012 NAVAIR release.
The Marines also say another weapon the Harvest HAWK uses to deadly effect is the AGM-176 Griffin. Designation-Systems.net describes the Griffin as a tube-launched missile that is smaller than the Hellfire (Predators can carry three Griffins for each Hellfire).
NAVAIR says that the Griffin can be fired through a modified cargo door. The is only about 13 pounds, though. But that can still do in a terrorist — or a tank, even.
The Harvest HAWK also can use the GBU-44 Viper Strike. Originally known as the Brilliant Anti-Tank submunition (or BAT), it had one problem: its missiles kept getting cancelled.
In 2007, Strategypage.com noted that the Army eventually put a modified BAT on the MQ-5 Hunter. With a 2.5-pound warhead, it can take out a target without damaging the structures nearby.
Oh, and the Harvest HAWK also is slated to get a 30mm cannon in the future, according to a Pentagon report. The likely choice will be the Mk 44 Bushmaster II used on the M1296 Dragoon, a modification of the M1126 Stryker.
With all that, the Harvest HAWK can still refuel the AV-8B, F/A-18, and F-35B jets the Marines use to support infantry. Firepower and fuel, in one airframe – now, that's awesome!