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US Mulls Collaboration With Japan on C-130 Seaplane Development

US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is seeking to collaborate with Japan to develop a C-130 military transport aircraft maritime variant.

Speaking at a conference in Florida, SOCOM acquisition head Jim Smith said the US can leverage Tokyo’s experience in developing the ShinMaywa US-2 maritime cargo aircraft.

The country reportedly has six of the amphibious-capable aircraft the Maritime Self-Defense Force uses for search and rescue.

“Japan is a very important partner in the Indo-Pacific,” Smith explained. “We are looking at partnering to see what we can learn from their experiences with the US-2.”

The US has only made modest progress in developing a seaborne strategic and tactical lift aircraft.

In February, General Atomics and Aurora Flight Sciences were awarded contracts to move forward with the Liberty Lifter program to produce an airlifter capable of takeoff and landing at sea.

Area of Interest

Developing heavy-lift cargo seaplanes is a pivotal strategic move to address rising tensions in the Western Pacific region.

China has reportedly militarized at least three artificial islands in the South China Sea and deployed an undisclosed number of fighter jets, anti-aircraft missiles, and laser weapons.

To counter these threats, Washington is being urged to expand operations in the disputed territory, which would necessitate deploying new military equipment.

As early as 2021, SOCOM had already signified its intention to modify Lockheed Martin’s MC-130J special operations transport aircraft for maritime take-off and landing.

However, US Air Force Colonel Kenneth Kuebler recently claimed that the effort is marred with challenges and that the US will need to wait for a couple of years before witnessing the maiden flight of an amphibious C-130 demonstrator.

“In two to three years, we will look to do a demonstration of the full capability,” he stressed.

US-2 maritime cargo aircraft
The ShinMaywa US-2 maritime cargo aircraft landing at sea. Photo: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force


The announcement that the US plans to partner with its Asian ally in developing a water-capable C-130 has raised the possibility that SOCOM could instead procure the already-operational ShinMaywa US-2.

SOCOM follows a different procurement system than other US military services, which could make way for independent aircraft acquisition.

Smith did not rule out the possibility, but he clarified that the service is still determining if the planned partnership would lead to adopting the Japanese airlifter.

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