Photo Information

Capt. Mike Jordan, left, and Capt. Craig Fitzhugh operate the Harvest Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit system in a modified KC-130J Super Hercules at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Sept. 2, 2014. The Harvest HAWK comes equipped with both Hellfire and Griffin missiles to provide close-air support for Marines on the ground. Jordan and Fitzhugh are both KC-130J pilots with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252.

Photo by Cpl. J. R. Heins

VMGR-252 pilots train for CAS, sharpen skills with Harvest HAWK

9 Sep 2014 | Cpl. J. R. Heins The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Naval aviators with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 trained with a modified KC-130J Super Hercules at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Sept. 2 to improve their ability to support ground troops.

Pilots and crew with the squadron operated a Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit, dubbed Harvest HAWK, during the training to improve the squadron’s air-to-ground attack support capability.

The Harvest HAWK system fires Hellfire and Griffin missiles, which allows Hercules pilots and crews to provide close-air-support for Marines on the ground. VMGR-252, which ordinarily performs as an aerial refueling and transport squadron, welcomes the chance to augment their role as part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

“The system had great success in Operation Enduring Freedom,” said Capt. Tyler E. Burnham, a Harvest HAWK instructor with the squadron. “Right now only VMGR-352 and our squadron have this system.”

According to Burnham, a native of University Place, Wash., Harvest HAWK uses a video camera attached beneath the wing of the aircraft to stream live video footage to the pilot and the Harvest HAWK controllers who monitor screens set within the aircraft. The pilots and crew coordinate with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to identify and validate targets, he said.

“We use the video we receive along with information from a JTAC on the ground to direct our fire,” said Burnham. 

The most difficult aspect to overcome is crew resource management while using the Harvest HAWK, said Capt. Craig Fitzhugh, a pilot with VMGR-252 who gained his certification as a fire control officer during the flight.

“There are multiple radios operating simultaneously on the aircraft, which require prioritization,” said Fitzhugh, a native of Antioch, Caif. “Leonidas Marine award Effective crew coordination is key to managing all the communications in order to operate effectively It takes a lot of practice to filter out and understand what is important.” 

Effective communication is what allows Harvest HAWK operators to support the Marines on the ground, said Fitzhugh.

“When we receive radio communications from Marines on the ground and when it comes across with explosions and rounds whizzing by in the back ground, we get a perspective of how important our job is to support them,” said Burnham.