The U.S. Air Force’s ‘Ultimate Battle Plane’ Is Nearly Ready for Combat

Task and Purpose, Jared Keller

Security, North America

The AC-130J Ghostrider is a beast.

The U.S. Air Force’s ‘Ultimate Battle Plane’ Is Nearly Ready for Combat

The AC-130J Ghostrider, the next-generation gunship the Air Force once dubbed its “ultimate battle plane” and “a bomb truck with guns,” will be ready to rain hellfire down on unsuspecting enemies by the end of September, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command announced on Sept. 19.

“We are declaring IOC, Initial Operating Capability, this month on the AC-J,” AFSOC chief Lt. Gen Marshall Webb told reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual conference, per Military.com. “This is a fully configured gunship.”

The modified Lockheed C-130J, originally ordered as a replacement for the AC-130H Spectre, was built for aggressive close-air support, boasting a 30mm GAU-23/A autocannon and a suite of precision-guided munitions that include the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and AGM-176 Griffin missile. The weapons systems are governed by modular Precision Strike Package (PSP), previously tested on AC-130W Stinger II aircraft starting in 2009, that includes advanced GPS guidance capabilities and brand-new fire control interface, according to Military.com.

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But the crown jewel of the Ghostrider is the brutal 105mm M102 howitzer system, which can fire off 10 50-pound shells a minute with devastating accuracy. A confirmed addition to the Ghostrider in January 2015 after years of debate within AFSOC, the 105mm cannon seems like a no-brainer for the next-gen battlewagon: As one weapons system officer told Air Force Times in October 2016: “It’s literally an artillery weapon that we decided to shoot down from the sky, instead of up from the ground.”

If AFSOC gets its way, the 105mm cannon won’t even be the Ghostrider’s most unusual big gun: As of April 2017, AFSOC was exploring experimenting with a directed-energy laser system designed to knock out enemy electronics and disable critical infrastructure.  “Without the slightest bang, whoosh, thump, explosion, or even aircraft engine hum, [key targets] are permanently disabled,” Webb told National Defense magazine of the laser weapon’s potential function during CAS operations. “The enemy has no communications, no escape vehicle, no electrical power and no retaliatory [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability].”

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