FARNBOROUGH, England -- The U.S. Air Force needs gunships. The wings of their AC-130s are literally falling off from the strain of ten years of deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
It just so happens Alenia Aermacchi unveiled a gunship version to the C-27 Monday here at the Farnborough International Airshow. Air Force leaders, however, chose to cancel the C-27 program this year after deciding the cargo aircraft was a luxury they could no longer afford in light of the defense budget cuts.
Alenia teamed up with ATK to outfit the MC-27J Spartan with a palletized 30 mm GAU-23 cannon and later a command and control pallet for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Neither capabilities are ground breaking. What sets it apart is the flexibility. Airman can load and unload the pallets carrying the guns in four hours or less.
U.S. airmen already fire the GAU-23 Bushmaster Automatic Cannon from the AC-130W. The Air Force converted 12 MC-130s into the AC-130W to stem the shortage of gunships in its fleet. The GAU-23 is a dual feed system that can carry 500 rounds. The cannon is capable of firing 200 rounds per minute, but the pilot typically fires one round at a time or five round bursts for accuracy sake. The GAU-23 on the AC-130W is not palletized and therefore cannot be easily unloaded from the aircraft for separate missions.
Shane Rainwater is a retired Air Force master sergeant who spent 20 years as a gunner in Air Force Special Operations Command. He now works for ATK and said the company is serious when they say a team of airmen could unload the cannon in four hours.
The command-and-control ISR pallet will come this fall as part of phase two of the MC-27J, Rainwater said. The sensor package will have EO/IR, SIGINT, and video downlink capabilities. A crew of two analysts will be able to sit in the palletized control terminal that airmen can roll on just like the cannon.
Alenia officials said they have received interest from the United Kingdom and Australia for the gunship and hold out hope the U.S. Air Force reverses its decision to cancel the C-27 program. Members of Congress have loudly criticized Air Force leaders for canceling the C-27, which would have gone to Guard squadrons.
The Air Force has relented on some of its force structure proposals in respect to the Guard. Officials have also said they still wish they could add the C-27 to their fleet, they just don't have the money and would rather keep other programs alive. If the sequestration goes through and another $500 billion is slashed from the defense budget, any hopes of a Spartan gunship supplementing the U.S. Air Force's fleet are likely dashed.