TOKYO — U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has the largest area of responsibility of the American military’s combatant commands. Covering about half the Earth’s surface, the command’s area of responsibility stretches from the waters off the West Coast of the continental United States to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole.
Add to that the large tracts of ocean and the thousands of small, less well-off islands that are often vulnerable to natural disasters that lie within the command’s area, and it becomes clear airlift is a vital element in such a large theater to support logistical needs for U.S. military operations in the region.
One of the units performing such airlift missions is the 374th Airlift Wing, a U.S. Air Force unit based out of Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Japan. Among the two flying squadrons assigned to the 374th AW is the 36th Airlift Squadron, which flies the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules tactical airlifter.
The squadron completed its transition to the C-130J earlier this year after having operated earlier variants of the venerable C-130 from 1966-1989 and again from 1993 until last year. According to the wing, the C-130J is quieter during takeoff, flies 14 percent faster and 800 miles further, and can carry 9,000 pounds more cargo than the C-130H model it operated before the transition.
Capt. Michael Pyles, a C-130 aircraft commander from the 36th AS, called it “perfect for the challenges of the Indo-Pacific AOR,” adding that “the C-130J has the unique capability of delivering cargo movement into formidable conditions.”
In addition, its smaller footprint and lighter weights can prove critical in operating from smaller, poor or damaged airfields, with Pyles citing the 374th AW’s relief efforts in Sulawesi, Indonesia, earlier this year as an example. On Sept. 28, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and an accompanying tsunami devastated the town of Palu and surrounding areas in Sulawesi. In response, the U.S. Air Force and regional counterparts mounted a relief effort, which saw four of the 14 C-130Js assigned to the wing deploy to the international airport Balikpapan in Indonesia’s Borneo island, where the relief operations control center was located, just across the Makassar Strait from Sulawesi.