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The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has announced the start of flight trials for a C-130J Hercules transport aircraft, which is equipped with the AN/AAQ-28(V) Litening sensor pod from Northrop Grumman.

C-130J A97-448 is fitted with a number of systems under the airforce’s Plan Jericho and is the first of six Hercules aircraft to receive a high-speed satellite communications antenna.

It is also receiving an augmented crew station in the cockpit to operate systems, including the Litening pod.

No 37 Squadron and RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit are conducting the flight trials from RAAF Base Richmond in Sydney’s north-west with support from the Air Warfare Engineering Squadron.

The AN/AAQ-28(V) Litening pod, which includes a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera, is mounted on a pylon underneath the Hercules’ wing and can record video in day and night conditions.

RAAF Air Commodore Carl Newman said: “Historically, RAAF Hercules crews have relied on radio, instruments and their own senses to understand the environment. This trial will examine how the Litening pod can improve crew situational awareness to mitigate mission risks.

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“For example, the Litening pod could help us maintain contact with survivors during search and rescue operations, or examine conditions at an airfield or drop zone prior to delivering cargo or personnel.”

As part of the trial, the Litening pod will be paired with a satellite communications antenna on the Hercules aircraft for sharing of high-definition video with ground-based units or a headquarters.

Newman said that sharing this information would have applications at the time of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

Airbus Australia Pacific designed the integration and performed the pod and pylon installation onto the Hercules aircraft with support from Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

The RAAF originally acquired the Litening pod as a targeting sensor for the F/A-18A/B Hornet. However, its targeting function will be disabled while fitted to the C-130J.

Flight trials began on 17 January, with the Hercules flown without the Litening pod so that the flight test team could establish the aircraft’s baseline performance.

During the trials, the flight test team will examine how the installation of the pod affects the aircraft’s performance in various conditions. They will also examine its functionality.

Last December, the RAAF incorporated a system to allow F-35 pilots to engage in multi-ship training missions using simulation technology.