The U.S. Navy just demonstrated it can coordinate with AC-130 gunships for maritime strike against potential hostile surface ships.
In a two-day exercise in the Arabian Gulf, the Navy used cyclone-class patrol coastal ships and a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft integrated alongside AC-130W Stinger II gunships, the service said in a release.
While it conducted a similar mission using MH-6M Little Bird helicopters during Operation Earnest Will between 1987 and 1988, the recent demonstration was the service's first using the Stinger II, according to the release. It was also the first time the assets all coordinated together for operations in the Arabian Gulf, officials said.
"Our surface forces integrating with aircraft that have the firepower of an AC-130W brings a capability to the joint force that profoundly enhances our lethality in the maritime environment," said Capt. Peter Mirisola, commander of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 50 and Combined Task Force (CTF) 55.
"The addition of the gunship to the joint maritime battle significantly enhances our ability to detect, track, engage and defeat surface threats in order to control water space in the Arabian Gulf," he said in the release. "The effectiveness of this joint capability to conduct maritime strike, reconnaissance and armed overwatch was clearly displayed during this live-fire event."
In a video posted by the Navy, the AC-130, assigned to Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), engages a target as the USS Monsoon (PC 4), deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, keeps watch.
The AC-130 is known for its armed overwatch for ground troops in hostile environments. Unlike its older U-model cousin, the Stinger model uses a 30mm cannon and precision-guided munitions, and can deploy the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.
The Navy did not specify what munitions were used in the exercise.
Officials said the aircraft's use in the Arabian Gulf also speaks to the U.S. deterrence campaign in the Middle East amid tensions with Iran.
"We've effectively employed similar joint capabilities in the past to counter belligerent forces that attempt to disrupt or hinder the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation in this region using force, or attack U.S., coalition, or partner forces in a conflict," said Vice Adm. Jim Malloy, commander of Naval Forces Central Command.
"We will continue to work across component commands and coalition partners to further improve the lethality of our forces through our ability to simultaneously engage a multitude of threats in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea and adjacent waters," Malloy said.