Merlin to Automate U.S. Special Operations Command C-130s

One of the requirements under the contract is that the transports be able to fly takeoff to touchdown without human intervention.

A C-130J Super Hercules taxies down the runway at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Marietta, Ga. [Courtesy: Us-Indo Pacific Command]

The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has awarded a $105 million contract to Merlin to build virtually autonomously operated C-130J Super Hercules transports.

Although the description of the resulting aircraft is that they have “reduced aircrew capability,” one of the requirements for the contract is that they be able to fly takeoff to touchdown without human intervention.

“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,” said Merlin CEO Matt George in a news release.

The contract is apparently designed to get these aircraft in USSOCOM’s hands as quickly as possible. Since it’s never been done before, the contract is an indefinite delivery, indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract that presumably frees the contractor to create the end product without a lot of government folks looking over their shoulders.

“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,” said George.

Merlin has a similar deal with the Air Force to automate KC-135 tankers.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on AVweb.

Russ Niles
Russ NilesContributor
Russ Niles has been a journalist for 40 years, a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb in 2003. When he’s not writing about airplanes he and his wife Marni run a small winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

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