U.S. Air Force to Demo Laser Weapon on AC-130J Gunship

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is planning to demonstrate a high-energy laser weapon from an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship by 2022.

“This is pretty exciting. And if it is successful — and we are planning for success — then it will feed into our new requirements and potentially a new program down the road,” Air Force Col. Melissa Johnson, Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Fixed Wing Programs, HQ U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Col. Johnson was speaking at the Virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (vSOFIC), hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), that took place last month.

According to a report by NDIA’s National Defense Magazine, the AFSOC has been seeking to install a laser weapon on its AC-130J gunships for the past five years. AFSOC has carried out a series of studies and ground tests for the laser weapon installation in partnership with the Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) in Virginia.

The earlier tests with the directed energy weapon have been ground based, but the demonstration that is scheduled to take place by the end of fiscal year 2022 will take place aboard an aircraft, Col. Johnson said. It will be a 60-kilowatt weapon, she noted.

AC-130J Ghostrider Gunship Firing Laser Weapon
Rendering of an U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) AC-130 gunship equipped with a laser weapon. (Credit: U.S. Air Force)

AC-130J Ghostrider is a heavily armed, long-endurance, ground-attack variant of the C-130J SUper Hercules transport aircraft use by the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The AC-130J is the fourth generation gunship replacing the aging fleet of AC-130U “Spooky”/AC-130W Stinger II gunships.

The aircraft is armed with the Precision Strike Package (PSP) with 30mm and 105mm cannons and Standoff Precision Guided Munitions (i.e. GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) and AGM-176 Griffin missile)

The AC-130J Ghostrider’s primary missions are close air support (CAS), air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity and include strike coordination and reconnaissance and overwatch mission sets.

The AC-130J achieved initial operational capacity in September 2017 and the last delivery is scheduled for fiscal 2021.

AC-130J Ghostrider
An U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) AC-130J Ghostrider gunship performs a routine training mission at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 17, 2016. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Callaway)

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