From SAR and surveillance coverage in the Arctic to early warning and anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean, the requirement for an airborne tactical capability to conduct special missions is even more present than ever. Today, using the latest technology, any conventional C-130 Hercules can be converted to a special mission aircraft in under 60 minutes and deliver a fast and effective mission, regardless of the target location, as Lars Munk of HISS Europe explains.

The conception and development of the special airborne mission installation and response (SABIR) system began more than a decade ago when the new world order and the development of several intense conflicts created a growing requirement for special mission aircraft beyond existing capacity.

The question was how to assure an adequate and effective airborne special mission capability, in a given area of operation, to match the number of incidents on the ground. The answer was to develop a multimission enabler system that would swiftly mount onto one of the most commonly used aircraft without modifying the aircraft. This would release dedicated special mission aircraft for specific operations, and introduce a much-needed similar capability to conventional aircraft.

The basic design criteria were ambitious: a quick-reaction roll-on/roll-off mission kit capable of carrying the most commonly used payloads, to be operated in full flight envelope (payload, range and endurance) with no modification to the airframe.

Given the amount of platforms worldwide, the number of flying hours each year and the extended flight envelope, the C-130 Hercules was the obvious first choice to carry the SABIR system. The R&D for the system was initiated and funded by DND Canada, under a programme called RMASS, to address the requirements for airborne special missions in various regional hot spots, including reconnaissance and surveillance capability in the remote Arctic and Antarctic regions. The US Department of Defense followed suit due to its growing multiple mission needs, and the combined developments gave rise to the unique SABIR design.

Today, the SABIR multimission system meets the design criteria for all versions of the C-130 E/H/J family, including short and stretch airframes. The system includes a strut for mounting the payload on the exterior of the aircraft, an interior mounting brace on the cargo rail system, a special door with a large observation window fitting into the top section of the doorframe, and a number of similarly modular system elements that allow SABIR to be rapidly customised to meet an increasingly broad range of mission requirements.

Quick turnaround

Whenever an operational requirement has been identified, the components of the SABIR system can be installed in under 60 minutes and, depending on the mission, the selection of sensor/payload will configure the aircraft as a search and reconnaissance (SAR); command and control (C2); intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare (ASW) or fire support platform to meet the challenge.

The SABIR is mounted in the paratrooper door opening and interchangeable between the left and right-hand-side. The mounting brace itself is attached to the rail system in the cargo floor, keeping the doorframe free of any static load. The mounting brace is designed for unimpeded cargo operations on the ground and in the air. This is an important feature of the SABIR system; cargo pallets, containers and vehicles can be loaded on or off while the SABIR system is mounted and ready for immediate operation after take-off.

Once airborne, the arm with the NATO-standard 14in mount is deployed in approximately 60 seconds, extending the sensor/payload below the aircraft, providing a 360º field of view (FOV) and the additional advantage of having no obstruction from the airframe compared with mounting on the wing or the nose.

The 360º FOV also gives the aircrew the prerogative of positioning the aircraft in the most advantageous position in the area of operation for increased effectiveness in respect of line of sight, relay, discretion and protection of aircraft.

Recent flight tests proved the arm to be a very stable mount for sensors used for targeting purposes – dampening the vibration and flutter induced by engine, propeller and turbulence to other traditional mounting areas.

From the large observation anti-ballistic window in the special door designed for pressurised flight, the aircrew has a full view of the area from straight below and under the aircraft to the top of the tail section. From the direction of flight to as close as 50f behind the aircraft, both for long duration observation flights and when operating to and from hot landing zones, the window offers the necessary protection and view to locate objects or threats.

An optional component for the door of the SABIR system is a 6in sonotube ejector that allows the aircrew to deploy marker smoke, buoys, payloads, mini UAVs and other SAR stores. Multishot cartridges in the door are a near-future option for increasing the deployment capability further to include rapid launch.

Mission flexibility

The combination of achieving the ambitious criteria from the start of the R&D programme and the further operational improvements to the system design after initial test and evaluation has resulted in a highly flexible and modular system architecture that can fly a simple configuration with a single sensor for a specific one-day mission or expand to multisensor pods for the more complex challenges of the following day’s mission. From an operational perspective, one aircraft can now be configured to conduct several missions at any given time. If technical issues are encountered on one airframe, the system can be removed and installed on another tail number in a very short time.

With the certified SABIR system for conventional C-130s, a new special mission aircraft capability is introduced to operators with a limited number of aircraft in a dynamic and changing environment. The SABIR system presents an option to undertake the same range of missions that has traditionally been reserved for operators with a larger fleet of C-130s dedicated to specific missions.

Whether the mission calls for SAR, ISR, C2, ASW or fire support in coastal, polar, jungle, desert environments, or the vast expanse of an ocean, the SABIR multimission system can be configured to carry the required payload to meet the challenge from a C-130 E/H/J.

The ability to meet new challenges with the SABIR system will increase the operational flexibility, responsiveness and effectiveness across several mission complexes. From a strategic point of view, the SABIR system allows the armed forces to expand the mission complex to new dimensions using existing platforms and payloads, and consider future upgrades and missions.

Currently, the evaluation and redesign of the next version of SABIR for other large fixed-wing aircraft is being undertaken. The introduction of more aircraft types with a special mission capability will expand and increase the overall operational flexibility and adaptability to meet the next challenges.

Once again it could be the development and implementation of new technology based on the existing challenges that will inspire and lead to the redefinition of the concept of operation for conventional large fixed-wing aircraft. In this context, the SABIR system is playing a vital role in the multinational arena for future SAR, C2, ISR, ASW and fire support capabilities.