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The AC-130J Ghostrider Will Get A Big Ass Gun Afterall


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The AC-130J Ghostrider Will Get A Big Ass Gun Afterall

It is no secret that the AC-130 fleet is changing. Once defined by their bristling cannons, the new breed of AC-130s are all about guided bombs and a slew of smart weapons, with just a single, direct fire 30mm cannon being fitted. Luckily, sharper minds have prevailed at AFSOC and now the AC-130Js will get the massive 105mm cannon they rightfully deserve.

Lt. General Bradley Heithold, the head of the AFSOC, swears by the AC-130's 105mm howitzer, told Breakingdefense.com that it's both more accurate and way less expensive than the precision guided munitions it was intended to replace. He credits the gun's precision to its lower explosive yield than even small guided bombs and missiles. The cost differential is also no secret – a 105mm howitzer shell costs hundreds of dollars, while a guided bomb can cost at a minimum tens of thousands of dollars or easily into the hundreds of thousands. Additionally, the AC-130's big shell can arrive on station in just a few seconds and re-attack rapidly, which is much faster than smart glide weapons or even missiles.


General Heithold's plan is to slowly retire some of his middle-aged AC-130Us (the Vietnam era AC-130Hs are already on their way out) while awaiting the introduction of his newest gunships, with hopefully the third AC-130J receiving the 105mm cannon fresh from the factory. The first two AC-130Js will have to rely on a single bushmaster 30mm cannon, bombs and missiles until they can be upgraded with the new-old big gun. This will leave a fleet of about 26 AC-130s available at any given time going into the future.

Originally, the plan was to shrink the AC-130 fleet as the war in Afghanistan drew down and Iraq was supposedly in the review mirror. That didn't happen and considering a terror state controls a land mass reaching almost from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, not to mention the mess that remains in Libya and the one that is growing in Yemen, there are few better weapons to take on these threats than the AC-130. In other words, demand may have dipped for the big bristling gunships, but now it is climbing again, with no end in sight.

Here's to General Heithold for doing-up America's next AC-130 the right way and keeping with what is inexpensive and highly effective over what is technologically flashy. And here's to the upcoming AC-130J Ghostrider, an aircraft that is now looking more promising than ever, maturing into something more deadly, versatile and survivable, with directed energy weapons and advanced radar jamming capabilities on the horizon.

Although the AC-130J is still yet to take to the skies operationally, take a few minutes and fly along on a some training missions aboard AFSOC's "legacy" AC-130 Specter and Spooky flying gunships.

Top shot, 105mm perspective shot via Tyler Rogoway, bottom shot of AC-130J via USAF

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Does anyone know how many AC-130J's there are, and the tail numbers or serial numbers?



I believe there is only 1 flying and it's still in flight test. 5710.

Not sure the mod status of others, but they are rolling off the line as MC-130J configuration.

Total plan is for 32 AC-130J airframes...eventually.

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Recent article said they had 2 prototype AC-130J's flying. I'll try to attach it.

The Air Force’s New Gunships Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Vibration problems threaten to delay the AC-130J


War is Boring (blog)

February 2, 2015

The U.S. Air Force’s newest AC-130J Ghostrider gunships will enter service later than expected because of plans to load extra weapons on the four-engine planes, but the Pentagon’s top weapons tester is even more worried that other nagging problems could hold up the aircraft.

In 2014, crews had trouble picking out targets because the two prototypes were shaking so much in the air, according to the latest annual report from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

On top of that, one of the aircraft had a mid-air accident that completely shut down test flights. “Several problems require resolution and will affect the subsequent development test schedule,” the report explains.

For one, the AC-130J apparently vibrates much more than the previous AC-130W Stinger II aircraft. Crews had serious trouble focusing powerful sensors and pointing laser designators at targets.

In a fight, this could mean the difference between shooting an enemy or hitting friendly troops nearby. The AC-130 is a modified C-130 transport plane armed with huge side-mounted gun turrets.

The report doesn’t explain why the new aircraft shake so much. However, the Ghostriders have more powerful engines than any of the previous AC-130s. The four Rolls-Royce turboprops with their six-bladed propellers could easily jerk sensitive equipment around quite a bit.

In addition, the video cameras and weapons on the J-models are designed to be easily removed and replaced. The mounts for these systems might not stay in place as well as the more permanent hardware on older variants.

If that wasn’t bad enough, electrical interference — like putting your wireless router too close to the microwave — caused problems for new hand-held controls. When the crew uses the remotes, the Ghostrider’s various turrets often start and stop moving without warning, the report notes.

“The program has reported some progress in the laboratory environment on both issues, but definitive solutions have not yet been demonstrated on the aircraft,” the Pentagon evaluators say in their overview.

Far more worrisome, one of the AC-130Js experienced a “temporary departure from controlled flight” on a test mission, according to the report.

While the report added few details, the pilots apparently had to fly the gunship faster than recommended — putting equally ill-advised strain on the airframe — to escape a more serious accident.

After the February 2014 incident, the Air Force promptly stopped flying the prototypes for an undisclosed amount of time. The service launched an investigation and issued new rules to the test crews on how to handle the gunships.

As a result of all these issues, the Ghostriders have completed less than a third of the planned test flights. As of January, both prototypes had been in the air for fewer than 100 hours in total.

In the end, the Ghostriders will be four months late for their first assessment of how they might fare on real-life missions. The Pentagon doesn’t expect a more comprehensive initial operations test and evaluation — needed before full production can begin — until October.

Have gun, won’t travel

Unfortunately, that timeline could drag out even more if the Air Force can’t get its third prototype AC-130J ready for the experiments.

The flying branch plans to install a 105-millimeter howitzer on this prototype. Until recently, this massive cannon was a standard weapon on all of the AC-130 models, but the flying branch expected the next generation of gunships to rely on precision-guided munitions such as Hellfire and Griffin missiles and GBU-39 Small-Diameter Bombs.

In November 2012, AC-130Ws dropped the GPS-guided SDBs on targets in Afghanistan for the first time ever, according an official briefing. Marine Corps KC-130J Harvest Hawk gunships have already fired Hellfires and Griffins in combat, too, but the huge gun is significantly cheaper than any of these guided weapons and the shells contain far less explosives, making them better suited to densely-populated areas full of civilians.

“An AC-130...precisely delivers very low yield munitions with a 30 and a 105 [millimeter cannons]...and they’re very inexpensive to deliver,” Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, the commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, told Breaking Defense.

So three years ago, the Air Force started looking at ways to mount the devastating weapon onto the Stinger IIs and Ghostriders. With the new armament fitted, the Ghostrider’s crew would expand from seven to nine. The weight of the gun, ammunition, and other gear could also change how the planes handle in flight, but the program — nicknamed Dragon Fire — has not produced a suitable arrangement yet, according to the report.

If the flying branch can’t provide the third prototype for tests, Pentagon weapon testers recommend adding an extra crew member to the cannon-less AC-130Js. This addition would help make the evaluation more “operationally relevant,” according to the annual review.

The aerial commandos also expect a “directed energy weapon” — like a deadly laser or millimeter-wave beam — to replace the howitzer in the future, Heithold said. The Air Force has toyed around with this idea for a decade.

In 2007, Boeing announced it installed a turret-mounted laser in the belly of an old DC-130H — originally used to launch Ryan Firebee target drones — for further study. Two years later, Air Force crews successfully fired the weapon and reportedly destroyed a target on the ground, but there’s been little to no news about this so-called “Advanced Tactical Laser” and it’s unclear if the project was really a success. Four years ago, the Pentagon canceled development of a similar, larger system fitted to a heavily-modified Boeing 747 airliner.

Regardless, the Pentagon report doesn’t mention beam weapons of any sort as part of the current test plan.

The Air Force is also still looking at whether the new Ghostriders can actually survive in a real fight. In their 2014 assessment, the evaluators voiced serious concerns about the aircraft’s apparent lack of armor [see below].

At the same time, commanders in the field are still demanding the gunships. Most recently, AC-130s have been among the many planes attacking Islamic State militants in Iraq.

The flying branch already plans to “buy back” two of the older AC-130U Spooky IIs in the next budget request — which have the valuable howitzer — to help avoid any shortfalls, Heithold said.

The Air Force originally planned to get rid of the older gunships in the next few years, but the General insisted that the problems with the Ghostriders shouldn’t be seen as “delays”.

“I wouldn’t call it a delay,” Heithold explained. The plan is to “field the J-model correctly.”

With all of these hurdles, American commandos and other troops on the ground can only hope the Air Force will have the Ghostriders ready for action sooner rather than later — without the excessive shaking.

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  • 1 month later...

March 27, 2015: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has decided to install a 105mm cannon in its new AC-130J gunship. In the last decade SOCOM had been replacing the 40mm and 20mm autocannon and 105mm cannon with missiles but combat experienced showed that that cannon were still needed in many situations. Before that SOCOM decided to bring back autocannon and install 30mm cannon (to replace the rather elderly 40mm and 20mm models). Thus the latest C-130 gunship model, the AC-130J has a 105mm cannon fired out the back of the aircraft via a modified rear ramp. Meanwhile SOCOM has standardized on the Griffin missile and GPS guided SDB (small diameter bomb).

The Mk44 30mm Bushmaster cannon weighs 157 kg (344 pounds) and fires at 200 or 400 rounds per minute (up to 7 per second). The cannon has 160 rounds available before needing a reload. That means the gunner has 25-50 seconds worth of ammo, depending on rate of fire used. Each 30mm round weighs about 714 g (25 ounces, depending on type). Explosive anti-personnel rounds are fired when used in gunships. The fire control system, and night vision sensors, enable the 30mm gunners to accurately hit targets with high explosive shells.

The 105mm cannon used is a modified (to weigh about 1.4 tons) version of the M102 howitzer that was used by light infantry units from the 1960s to the 1990s. The M102 fires a 15 kg (33 pound) shell. The complete round (with casing and propellant) weighs about 19 kg (42 pounds). On the ground the 105mm fires at distant targets it cannot see, with the shell following a curved trajectory to hit something up to 11 kilometers away. On the gunship it fires directly at targets the gunship sensors can see and that shortens the range to about 1,100 meters. On the gunship the 105mm can fire up one round every ten seconds. Usually only one round per target is needed. In the older AC-130s 96 105mm rounds were carried. The larger AC-130J can carry twice as many, if not more.

SOCOM is expanding its existing AC-130 gunship fleet to 37 new AC-130J models. These will replace 37 older models (eight AC-130Hs, 12 AC-130Ws and 17 AC-130Us). When using the SDB and missiles the AC-130J can fly high enough to stay out of range of ground fire and this enables it to operate in daylight. But with the cannon the gunship must fly much lower, where the sensors, and all weapons, are more effective if only because the missiles and bombs arrive on target more quickly and the 30mm and 105mm cannon can add their firepower. When using the cannon the AC-130J only operates at night.

View original article: https://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htsf/20150327.aspx

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