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AFSOC Would (Almost) Kill for New Gunships

AC-27.jpg

If Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, could put his hands on one more dollar to spend he would buy a heavily armed version of the new Joint Cargo Aircraft. In fact, he wants them so badly that after spending that dollar, hed go down the table, stab the others in the back and take their dollars for the program. Or at least thats what he said during a roundtable of four-star generals at the annual Air Force Association conference.

The command, based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., needs a successor to the aging AC-130 gunship, and so its asking to redirect about $32 million from its current fiscal year budget to buy a prototype from JCA maker Alenia Aeronautica and its U.S. partner, L3 Communications.

The command hasnt settled on what size cannon to go in the plane, but it wants something that can take out a truck or tank probably something between a 25mm and 40 mm weapon, said Jason Decker, a spokesman for L3.

The AFSOC version would be called the AC-27J Stinger II, Decker said this week at the Air Force Associations annual conference in Washington, D.C., where he stood before an oversized illustration of the proposed plane. Though its being called a gunship gunship lite, in some quarters Decker said that reference tends to draw the ire of Lockheed Martin, maker of the AC-130 family of gunships since the 1960s and the -130A and H model Spectre and the AC-130U Spooky.

But the AC-130s are showing their age and need replacing, AFSOC officials have said. Wurster, commander of AFSOC, said during a presentation at the conference that he wants 16 combat JCAs ready by 2015.

In March, in an interview with CBS Evening News, AC-130 pilot Lt. Col. Mark Clawson said the planes are seeing so much action in Iraq and Afghanistan that its hard to keep them flying.

Another pilot noted that for every hour of flying,the gunship requires 14 hours of maintenance. And cracks in the wings are prompting their replacement five years ahead of schedule, Capt. James May said, according to a transcript of the interview.

The original version of the Stinger was a C-119 manufactured by Fairchild and initially were deployed to Vietnam in 1969 and used by the 18th Special Operations Squadron, 14th Special Operations Group, at Phan Rang Air Base, but also were operated by detachments out of air bases at Da Nang and Phu Cat, according to the National Museum of the Air Force.

-- Bryant Jordan

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