For years now, the AC-130U Spooky gunship has been nightmare fodder for America’s enemies. These massive platforms carry a 25mm or 40mm cannon, 105mm cannon, and a 25mm Gatling gun, making them among the most potent air-support platforms on the planet. Now, as the era of the Spooky gunship comes to a close, there’s a new nightmare on the horizon: the AC-130J Ghostrider.

The first Ghostrider gunship arrived at Hurlburt Field, Florida for testing with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, 1st Special Operations Wing last week, where it will be put through its paces for the better part of a year prior to entering combat operations. This “Block 30” iteration of the legendary AC-130 airframe includes a number of improvements over its “spooky” predecessor, including “a major improvement in software and avionics technology,” according to an Air Force press release.

“The Ghostrider is the newest and most modernized gunship in existence, fulfilling the same mission sets as the Spooky but with upgraded avionics, navigation systems, and a precision strike package that includes trainable 30mm and 105mm weapons,” it said.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, addresses a crowd during an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship unveiling at Bob Sikes Airport Crestview, Florida, March 6, 2019. (USAF)

One of the most important changes delivered by the AC-130J is the highly accurate 30mm cannon that, according to Air Force Special Operations Command, is “almost like a sniper rifle…it’s that precise. It can pretty much hit first shot, first kill.”

Although the new gunship makes its money by delivering firepower on target, it’s some of the other upgrades that may truly make the Ghostrider a more capable air-support platform than its predecessor. Thanks to system-wide improvements, the new aircraft reportedly boasts superior fuel economy despite fielding more powerful engines. That means it can get to the action faster and loiter longer than previous gunships.

“It’s going to be awesome. It’s our big gun truck. It’s going to have more powerful engines, a more efficient fuel rate, and also has a more precise fuel capability so you know exactly how much gas you’ve got on board,” Col. Tom Palenske, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, told Military.com.

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Air Force Special Operations Command leadership tours an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship during its unveiling at Bob Sikes Airport Crestview, Florida, March 6, 2019. (USAF)

Along with more accurate cannons, improved flight systems, and better fuel management, the AC-130J has other means of delivering punishment to America’s enemies.

“It’s also going to have AGM-176 [Griffin] missiles on the back, so you can put 10 missiles on the back of them. And two of the tubes are reloadable, so those missiles, they’re sitting in the tube backward so the tail’s pointing out, [and] they eject out of the airplane, right-side themselves and shoot like a forward-fired missile,” Palenske said.

The Air Force plans to purchase 32 of these gunships, with the first of them entering combat operations early next year and the full complement of AC-130Js delivered by 2021.

“From soup to nuts, it’s all run by computers and computer programs. But it’s going to [be] the most lethal, with the most loiter time, probably the most requested weapons system from ground forces in the history of warfare. That’s my prediction,” Palenske said.