Jan 28, 2015

AC-130J Will Get 105 mm Cannon ASAP; Laser Later

Sometimes smart bombs aren’t the smart choice. That’s why the aging AC-130 gunship is still revered by ground troops for its ability to fire a 105mm cannon — a weapon normally mounted on light tanks. That’s why the head of Air Force Special Operations, decided the new model, the AC-130J Ghostrider, had to have the 105 instead of relying on missiles.
The U model, aka “Spooky,” is the classic gunship configuration with multiple cannon, including the 105 mm. The W model, aka “Stinger II,” was a special innovation for Afghanistan that had smart weapons — Griffin Missiles and Small Diameter Bombs — but no gun heavier than 30mm. The J-model Ghostrider was originally supposed to enter service looking a lot like the Stinger, with a 30mm gun, Griffins, and SDBs, but with enough spare power and room to maybe mount the 105 mm at some later point.
The venerable 105 gun is in some ways more precise than smart weapons, because its shells contain much less explosive than even the Small Diameter Bomb. Because those shells are smaller than missiles or bombs, an airplane can also carry a lot more of them. And they’re a lot less expensive than smart weapons.
As for the J-model, the first two aircraft will not have the 105mm gun installed. That’ll have to be retrofitted later.
The big gun isn’t the only upgrade the Ghostriders will need, however. They currently lack the full suite of defenses found on the older aircraft. They have chaff, flares, and lasers to blind heat-seeking missiles, the Large Aircraft Infra-Red Counter Measures (LAIRCM) system. What they don’t have is countermeasures against radar-guided missiles. The Air Force can’t simply pull the needed systems off retiring aircraft, either, because they’re hardwired in. AFSOC just put out a Request For Proposals for radio-frequency countermeasures for the J-model.
The two test aircraft flying now are “Block 10″ Js with seven crew and no 105 cannon. What’s required for Initial Operating Capability (IOC) will be the Block 20, with the 105 and two more crew, a sensor operator and the cannon gunner. The ultimate Ghostrider? The Block 40, of which anywhere from zero to seven would be built, would carry a directed energy weapon.

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