Merlin Labs Says $105 Million C-130J Advanced Automation Contract Stepping Stone for Other SOF Aircraft

Boston’s Merlin Labs, Inc. said on June 12 that it has received a $105 million contract from U.S. Special Operations Command to provide advanced automation for the Air Force C-130J airlifter by Lockheed Martin as a step toward such features for other special operations forces fixed wing aircraft over the next five years.

Merlin said that it will “begin working towards a production-ready reduced aircrew capability on Special Operations Forces (SOF) C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, the most-used cargo platform in the Department of Defense’s fleet.”

“Utilizing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) authorities, this contract allows Merlin to rapidly bring to production its advanced automation systems onboard the C-130J with contracted scope for introduction into the broader SOF fixed wing fleet,” Merlin Labs said.

The Air Force’s 6th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill AFB, Fla., and Merlin have been testing the Merlin Pilot system to provide autonomy and automation for the KC-135 tanker to reduce aircrew and allow crew members to focus on critical mission tasks.

In February, Merlin said that it had signed a multi-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Air Mobility Command (AMC) and Air Force Materiel Command to develop and integrate the Merlin Pilot on the KC-135 to inform the Next Generation Air Refueling System and “pave the way for autonomous uncrewed operations of the KC-135–an unprecedented new capability for AMC and the USAF.”

Merlin said that the company has had a nearly two-year-old partnership with the Air Force and that the new C-130J contract will provide advanced automation design and integration on the C-130J; ground testing; Test Readiness Review (TRR) and flight test; full takeoff to landing demonstration; and integration on other SOF aircraft.

Matt George, the co-founder and CEO of Merlin, said in a statement that the “the magnitude of the [$105 million] contract is an important proof point that USSOCOM continues to bring innovative capabilities out of testing and into production track programs.”

A version of this story originally appeared in affiliate publication Defense Daily.

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