Most future military transport needs could possibly be met by three classes of vehicles.
To Mike Sparks' comments on the future Hercules, I'd like to add the following:-
- Long range Strategic transport need can be met by a combination of Military 747s, Wing In Ground Effect platforms and Airships
- More tactical missions would be undertaken by the replacement for the C-130 discussed below. It is likely that the next such aircraft will be capable of carrying around 40 tons allowing such loads as a pair of up-armoured M113s or possibly an advanced medium tank. The Airbus A-400M is approaching this capability with a capacity of nearly 37 tonnes in a 13ft x 12.5ft x 58ft cargo area. The C-17 Globemaster can carry 77.6 tonnes in an interior volume of 18ft x 12ft x 85ft. The C-17 was designed to have both an inter-theatre and intra-theatre role although the latter is not currently common practice.
- In theatre transport will largely fall to a platform such as the proposed MH-2000X. The Russian Mi-26 can already transport vehicles of more than 19 tons, allowing it to move a pair of armoured cars or a single APC/IFV. With similar capability the MH-2000X could also perform many of the roles now filled by the C-130
A useful feature would be a nose door in addition to the rear ramp. This will allow rapid unloading of vehicles in a tactical situation, and allow one cargo to be loaded as another is still being unloaded. The pilot and loadmaster will be assisted by cameras mounted on parts of the airframe.
In-flight re-fueling capability should be fitted as standard.
Having the undercarriage in pods on the outside of the hull offers the option of interchangeable landing gear. For peacetime operations on prepared fields, wheels can be fitted, while for tactical landings on unprepared areas, a tracked system can be used. This may be something as simple as a set of tracks that fit over the usual wheels.
The airforce should also invest in some transports that have an air cushion landing system. The ability to land on a beach or paddy field will be very useful, both for tactical operations and humanitarian aid.
I like the idea of a tailless configuration that uses body lift. When flying over oceans it should be possible to use Wing in Surface Effect to conserve fuel. The flying boat Dornier-X actually made most of its transatlantic flight in this way.
The transport aircraft based Gunship has proven itself as a very useful system.
Mike Sparks has suggested additional missions for such aircraft suppression of enemy forces on LZs and airfields.
If designing a new aircraft from scratch, it should be possible to build a purpose built Gunship at the same time, offering several advantages but utilizing many common components. The wing and landing gear are probably going to be the same, but the hull can be slimmer and optimized for weapon and sensor mounting. Systems such as SLAR can have antennae built into the skin of the aircraft. The Gunship may be sleeker and faster than its transport and tanker sisters.
Since the Gunship is less likely to land on unprepared fields, it may have jet engines instead of props. Or it may use a ramjet system to give it more flight speed when needed. Ramjets usually require an aircraft to reach at least 200mph to function, however.
The ATT-Gunship would have two configurations of armament and can be changed from one to the other in a few man-hours.
The first configuration is the "traditional" one mounting most of the armament to fire from the port side of the aircraft. A suggested armament is two GAU-12 25mm cannon, a Bofors 40mm Gun and a 105mm Howitzer. Instead of the M102 used on current aircraft the howitzer may be based on the M119 or the Italian Model 56 Pack howitzer.
The aircraft is likely to also mount turreted laser designators and may also carry missiles either medium/long range air to air missiles or Hellfire based threat suppression missiles. The later have a multi-mode seeker that can home in on SAM and AAA systems. By constructing a purpose built body for the Gunship variant a Missile bay can be incorporated into the design
The second configuration is the airfield attack mode that mounts weapons on both sides. Some of the guns will have floor or roof mounted rail systems so that they can be moved easily. A similar system will facilitate ammo handling.
Each side has a 25mm cannon and either a 40mm gun or a howitzer. Vacant gunports may mount weapons such as the .50 Gatling or the ASP 30mm cannon. The Howitzer is mounted on the side that intelligence reports indicate it will be most useful on in the coming mission.
The Gunship has two other weapon stations. Unlike the Transport version it does not have a set of nose doors. Instead the nose mounts a battery of rapid fire guns that sweep the ground ahead of the attacking aircraft.
Above the tail ramp of the aircraft is a remote controlled 20mm M61 or 25mm GAU-12. This can be used to engage anti-aircraft systems that attempt to fire on the departing Gunship. If the nose and tail guns are turret mounted they could also be used to supplement the fire of side mounted guns.
Weapons can also be fired out of the open rear ramp, and this can be used to deploy large capacity FAE or Strategic-Smoke bombs. An ejector system for smaller bombs may also be possible, and this may be an application for the Rearbombs Carlton Meyer suggests.
Air Cushion Landing Gear.
The Fairchild XC-120 was an experimental adaption of the C-119 transport aircraft using a detachable pod or "pack".
This is a feature that should be considered for a C-130 replacement. A transporter could release a pod on a theatre airfield and take off again almost immediately. Use of pods would also increase range since the aircraft would be subject to less drag on the return flight.
Several models of pod are possible:-
It is obviously possible to change an aircraft's configuration just by changing the pod. The airframe without a pod fitted may serve as a bomber for low-intensity conflicts. In fact the entire pod could be replaced by a massive FAE bomb.
- The basic pod would have a door/ramp at each end and an underside configured to produce body lift. Landed pods might later be used as pre-fab shelters.
- A tanker pod designed to carry fuel and giving the aircraft capability to act as an in-flight refueling aircraft. A variant of this could be used to carry water for fighting forest fires.
- A gunship pod -holding the weapons and various sensors needed for this role.
- A pod containing rotary launchers for Cruise missiles or free-fall bombs, coverting the transport into a Transport Bomber serving as a missile carrier or carpet bomber.
Most of the pods mentioned above would have the bottom configured to create aerodynamic lift. Another possibilty is to have the bottom of the pod shaped so that the aircraft becomes a seaplane/amphibian, useful for SAR and ASW missions. This might incorporate some of the features of the Blackburn B 20.
Other Support Aircraft Ideas.