Merlin to Develop Autonomous Solutions for US Special Ops Super Hercules Aircraft

Aviation solutions firm Merlin has received a $105-million contract to develop autonomous capabilities for the US Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM) C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft.

The project is part of an effort to improve the safety and operational flexibility of the US Department of Defense’s “most-used cargo platform.”

Under the contract, Merlin will design, equip, and facilitate ground trials of production-ready reduced aircrew capabilities.

The Massachusetts-based company will also conduct takeoff-to-landing demonstrations, advanced autonomy skill development, integrations, and Test Readiness Reviews.

The resulting solutions will be leveraged as a basis to introduce Merlin’s autonomy technologies into the broader Special Operations Forces fixed-wing fleet, the firm wrote.

Work for the initiative will run for five years.

Providing ‘High Levels of Autonomy’

“The contract award marks a milestone in the collaboration between USSOCOM and Merlin, accelerating our ability to bring high levels of autonomy to a variety of fixed wing platforms to support the warfighter,” Merlin CEO Matt George said.

“In addition, the magnitude of the contract is an important proof point that USSOCOM continues to bring innovative capabilities out of testing and into production track programs.”

Merlin’s USSOCOM deal follows a $105-million contract for a similar autonomy project on C-130Js under the US Air Force.

The company explained during the first contract signing that its software and hardware would bolster protection and support the “possibility of crew reductions in the face of a global shortage of pilots.”

US Air Force C-130J Super Hercules
A US Air Force C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron flies over Suruga Bay, Japan, March 26, 2018. Image: US Air Force/Yasuo Osakabe

Recent Achievements

Merlin accepted a certification of approval for its takeoff-to-touchdown autonomy system in 2021 under the US Federal Aviation Administration and the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.

The same year, the firm secured $25 million in funding from Google Ventures and First Round Capital to automate 55 Beechcraft King Air planes of Virginia-based specialized mission aircraft provider Dynamic Aviation.

Merlin signed another agreement to fit autonomous and semi-autonomous flight capabilities into Ameriflight’s cargo fleet.

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