Air Force Gets First Upgraded 'Ghostrider' Gunship

An MC-130J Commando II lands on the flightline at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 11, 2016. The AC-130J Ghostrider is a modified version of the MC-130J. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Kentavist Brackin)
An MC-130J Commando II lands on the flightline at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 11, 2016. The AC-130J Ghostrider is a modified version of the MC-130J. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Kentavist Brackin)

The Air Force has received an upgraded version of its Ghostrider gunship.

The 4th Special Operations Squadron, 1st Special Operations Wing, at Hurlburt Field, Florida, received its first AC-130J Ghostrider Block 30 gunship this week during a ceremony at Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Florida, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a news release Thursday.

The 4th Special Operations Squadron currently operates and maintains the AC-130U Spooky.

The Block 30 model marks "a major improvement in software and avionics technology" over the original Block 20 software AC-130J, the release states.

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"The Ghostrider is the newest and most modernized gunship in existence, fulfilling the same mission sets as the Spooky but with upgraded avionics, navigation systems and a precision strike package that includes trainable 30mm and 105mm weapons," according to the release.

The first Block 30 model will remain in a testing-only status for a year before it can deploy for battlefield operations, officials said.

Along with the 105mm cannon the U-models sport, the AC-130J is equipped with a 30mm cannon "almost like a sniper rifle. ... It's that precise, it can pretty much hit first shot, first kill," Col. Tom Palenske, then-commander of 1st Special Operations Wing, told Military.com last May at Hurlburt.

The model achieved initial operational capability in September 2017.

The J-model also has improved turboprop engines, which reduce operational costs with better flight sustainability, the service has said.

It has the ability to launch 250-pound, GPS- or laser-guided small-diameter bombs (SDB). The aircraft is expected to carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, interchangeable with the SDBs on its wing pylons, AFSOC has said.

Palenske said last year that airmen have been waiting to see the aircraft in action.

"It's going to [be] the most lethal, with the most loiter time, probably the most requested weapons system from ground forces in the history of warfare. That's my prediction," he said.

The fourth-generation J is slated to replace the AC-130H/U/W models, with delivery of the final J- model sometime in 2021, according to the Air Force. The service plans to buy 37 of the aircraft.

Crews expect the J to be deployed in late 2019 or early 2020.

"It's our big gun truck," Palenske said. "It's going to have more powerful engines, a more efficient fuel rate. ... You can keep the sensors on the bad guys longer ... [and] it's also going to have AGM-176 [Griffin] missiles on the back, so you can put 10 missiles on the back of them.

"It's going to be awesome," he said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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