The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has installed a high-speed Satellite Communications (SATCOM) system on a second C-130J HERCULES, providing in-flight internet connection to crew and passengers. A total of six aircraft will receive the upgrade with the first C-130J having been equipped with the antenna and associated avionics equipment in late 2017.
The RAAF is the first C-130J Hercules operator in the world to install the Ka-band SATCOM system in its fleet. This allows live-streaming of high-definition video and connectivity to headquarters and other nodes around the world. The Ka-band capability substantially increases the bandwidth compared to L Band, enabling increased data transmission and simultaneous connections by multiple users. Commander Air Mobility Group Air Commodore Carl Newman said the high-speed SATCOM capability would allow aircrew and passengers to better respond during dynamic scenarios.
Historically, crew and passengers on a HERCULES have been limited to using HF radio for long-range communication while in flight. In 2015, Air Force began equipping its fleet of 12 C-130Js with L-band SATCOM, which provided global voice and limited data connectivity. Each Ka-band modification requires fitting a SATCOM antenna and fairing on the spine of the Hercules, along with equipment inside the cargo bay to provide local and wireless area networks.
No. 37 Squadron, which operates Air Force’s C-130J fleet from RAAF Base Richmond, will receive a third aircraft with the Ka-band SATCOM capability by April next year. The modification is undertaken by Airbus Australia Pacific at RAAF Base Richmond, utilising an antenna provided by Honeywell and connectivity to the Inmarsat network. This year, RAAF conducted a trial to remotely pilot an Unmanned Aerial System using the Ka-band SATCOM antenna while the aircraft was in flight. In late 2017, the SATCOM was used during Operation Christmas Drop, live-streaming video on Facebook during an airdrop of supplies to a remote West Pacific atoll.
J C Menon