The head of Air Force Special Operations Command says he wants to put a laser cannon on the nation’s fleet of gunships by 2020. Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold is in charge of 19,000 air commandos.
The Air Force has stated they want the system to weigh less than 5,000 pounds — roughly the weight of a Jeep Wrangler — and would like the laser to occupy a space no greater than one gun position on the latest AC-130J “Ghostrider” gunship, set to begin operational service in 2017. The Ghostrider, currently undergoing testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, is set to be armed with a World War II-era 105mm howitzer and modern 30mm cannon, along with various guided munitions.
The AC-130’s 105mm howitzer is both more accurate and much more affordable than the precision guided bombs and missiles that were set to replace it. While considered a “dumb” bomb, the gun’s precision is credited to its lower explosive yield than even small guided — or “smart” — bombs and missiles. Even still, the howitzer fires explosives that can destroy an entire city block in one swift pull of the trigger by an enlisted airman in the back of the aircraft — all while flying safely at 20,000 feet. The gun is so powerful that aircrew have said that when fired, the entire aircraft is pushed several feet in the opposite direction of where it’s firing, due to the massive forces produced by the cannon.
The cost difference is also no secret — a 105mm howitzer shell costs a few hundred dollars, while a guided bomb can easily cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Air Force and USSOCOM have nearly 30 gunships in operation around the world. By 2021, up to 32 J-model AC-130s may join the fleet.
The AC-130J is a highly modified C-130J aircraft that contains many advanced features. It contains an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics. The aircraft is capable of extremely accurate navigation due to the fully integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation systems and global positioning system.
The AC-130J is the fourth generation gunship replacing the aging SOF fleet of 37 AC-130H/U/W gunships. AC-130 gunships have an extensive combat history dating to back to Vietnam where gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions.
The first AC-130J aircraft is scheduled to begin developmental test and evaluation in January 2014. The first squadron will be located at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., while other locations are to be determined. Initial operational capacity is expected in fiscal 2017 and the last delivery is scheduled for fiscal 2021.
SOURCES- Pulse, US Air force, wikipedia