US Air Force Special Operations Command has designated an AC-130W gunship to have a laser weapon installed. There are ready crews and funded flight hours available for industry partners to leverage.
The aircraft does not carry the 105mm cannon installed on other operational “Stinger II” gunships—affording more size, weight and power—but any proposed laser unit will occupy the 30mm gun position forward of the wing, where airflow is less disturbed.
They are pushing for a 60-kW or 120-kW high-powered laser, depending on technology readiness, for disabling stationary vehicles, aircraft and fixed communications nodes such as cellphone towers.
AFSOC already has published a secret-level concept of operations document addressing the way a laser-equipped gunship would be used in battle, and other organizations within the Defense Department are defining tactics, techniques and procedures for laser weapons.
The AC-130 will also become a flying aircraft carrier, launching mini-drones mid-flight to scope out threats and targets. The mini-drone project is further along, with actual testing underway in 2015. It relies on fitting the existing Coyote UAV to the Common Launch Tube already used by some AC-130 variants to launch Griffin missiles.
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