The new AC-130J Ghostrider gunship has been described by the Air Force’s Special Operations Command as “the ultimate battle plane,” and according to initial reports, it’s been living up to its reputation in combat.
The replacement for the legendary AC-130U Spooky gunship offers a number of combat capabilities found in its predecessor, including the legendary 105 mm artillery gun that helped make the Spooky gunship a favorite among special operators and Call of Duty players alike. However, where the new AC-130J beats its Spooky precursor is in its operational ceiling, battlefield endurance, and the technology found hidden behind the aircraft’s powerful guns.
An improved sensor suite, new seating that adds a number of safety features for the crew, and a redesign of the interior cargo area all make the new gunship a dramatic shift from the old, even if the two look pretty similar from afar. It also may pack at least one more powerful punch than previous C-130 based gunships… it might be capable of firing AGM-114 Hellfire missiles from underwing. Press releases leading up to the unveiling of the AC-130J claimed that the new platform would have this capability, but once these new planes started hitting the fleet, the Air Force became tight-lipped about its potential as a Hellfire-carrying platform.
“The AC-130J Block 30 is our most lethal aircraft in the AFSOC inventory. We have tested Hellfire missiles on earlier model gunships. Details about the weapon systems will be released as the aircraft is fully brought online through testing and evaluation,” the Air Force said in order to dismiss the question in March. Subsequent articles published in multiple outlets since have also claimed that the new Ghostrider gunship does, indeed, have the ability to carry and fire these missiles, although the Air Force’s fact sheet on the platform does not include them. Of course, that fact sheet also says it was last updated in early 2016… so it seems likely that Hellfires have since joined the party.
Hellfires notwithstanding, the new gunship is both faster and more fuel efficient than the AC-130U it replaced after nearly twenty years of service. It also carries a 30 mm GAU-23/A cannon and can deploy GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.
Air Force Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife declined to discuss how many AC-130Js are already deployed in Afghanistan or where they’re operating, but he had nothing but positive things to report about the platform.
“It’s higher mission-capable rates across the board” he said about the AC-130J replacing the old Spooky Gunship. “It’s been an improvement in our ability to provide close-air support to our ground teams.”
Slife also noted that SOCOM has plans to arm the AC-130J with laser weapons within the next five years.
“It’s got an open architecture system inside the airplane that kind of allows the addition of sensors and weapons systems as they become available,” he said.