Air Force Special Operations Command has begun and ambitious program to modernize the weapons suite on its fleet of newer AC-130U Spooky gunships.
AFSOC commander, Lt. Gen. Mike Wooley, explained his force is replacing the 25mm GAU-12 Equalizer Gatling gun and World War II-era 40mm Bofors cannon on its entire fleet of AC-130Us with 30mm Bushmaster cannon to improve accuracy and to take advantage of modern munitions. The command now has four Spookies outfitted with the 30mm guns.
The 30mm cannon is much more effective as an area weapon to keep peoples heads down in an engagement or to put down a barrage of fire to take out the enemy in a certain area with munitions that are available today, Wooley told reporters at a Wednesday morning meeting in Washington. The 40mm is World War II ammunition, and its hard to find.
Companies like Alliant Techsystems offer a wide range of 30mm munitions, with airburst capabilities and specialized anti-armor characteristics, giving spec ops airmen a wide range of ammo choices to meet particular missions.
I would like to, once its proven, proliferate that to all the gunships all the Us and all the Hs, he added
Wooley also said his office is looking to smooth bore out the fleets 105mm Howitzer cannon to 120mm in hopes of some day integrating Army innovations in precision-guided mortar munitions. Despite recent incidents of Spooky and Spectre gunships accidentally spraying their lethal payload on civilians in Afghanistan, Wooley claims the AC-130 is one of the most accurate and discriminating platforms in theater.
Positive identification, visual identification of the target is very important to us when we strike a target, Wooley explained. Thats one of the beauties of our gunships with a 5-pound warhead that does have very low collateral damage. Thats one of the reasons why every unit running around the battlefield would like a gunship right over their head.
Beyond the weapons upgrade, Wooley said his command is working on a wing box replacement program to extend the service life of the U fleet, which has seen a spike in operational tempo since the war in Iraq and Afghanistan kicked off though he admitted Iraq operations far outpace Afghan flight by sometimes four to one. He also called for an increase of 24 gunships to make up for what will surely be an increased demand from added Marine special operations units and a boost in Special Forces Alpha teams.
In the future, AFSOC is working toward a technological leap for its gunship replacement. Wooley spoke about his desire to outfit future Spooky-like aircraft outfitted with an exotic weapons suite of directed energy weapons, lasers and non-lethal weapons.
The Air Force has already begun testing an airborne tactical laser, but one problem that clearly needs to be ironed out before we start seeing gunships zapping bad guys like Buck Rogers is to lighten the load.
If you look at the lasers of today theyre so big if you look at the aircraft we have outfitted to test the laser its full of chemicals and generators and all that kind of stuff, Wooley said. The key is going to be pushing the technology to get all that stuff to where it can fit in a fourth-generation aircraft.
He added the future gunship may not be a mobility platform like the C-130, and could instead look more like a bomber. Wooley wants a new gunship that can operate 24 hours a day rather than be restricted to flying under the cover of night.
This is a 24 hour a day fight that were in, he said.
Its good to see the gunship community finally getting its day in the sun. Operators have been singing the Spectre/Spookys praises for years a victory for brute force, utilitarian designs over exotic, and expensive, technological solutions so many seem so enamored with. It remains to be seen if the future gunship gets mired in the budget, testing and requirements battles such a high-tech solution will undoubtedly encounter when it comes up against F-22, JSF and future bomber buys.