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The Air Force’s ‘Ultimate Battle Plane’ Has A Major Gun Problem
In the five years since the Air Force converted an MC-130J Combat Shadow II into a next-generation AC-130J Ghostrider ground-attack aircraft, Air Force Special Operations Command hasn’t been able to stop bulking up the airframe’s weapons systems. They added a 105mm cannon and are even considering the future installation of a frickin’ laser beam to make the Ghostrider “the ultimate battle plane” for close air support; the Ghostrider's muscular arsenal has led AFSOC officials to call it “a bomb truck with guns on it.”
But a new Pentagon report reveals a serious problem with this truck’s guns. Buried in a January 2018 after-action from the DoD’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (and flagged by our friends at The War Zone) is a relatively alarming assessment of the Ghostrider: The aircraft’s fire control systems “performed inconsistently when accounting for changing ballistic conditions” like shifts in altitude and ambient wind; those factors frequently required in-flight recalibrations to ensure the gun and mount actually remained on target.
Even worse, the report states that recoil from the 30mm GAU-23/A cannon’s full rate of fire (a blistering 200 rounds a minute) causes the gun to shake so aggressively that the fire control system’s automatic safeguards kick in, and the operator has to allow the gun and mount to recenter before opening fire again. Both of these problems, the report notes, are absent from the Ghostrider’s predecessor, the AC-130W Stinger.
AFSOC declared that the Ghostrider had reached initial operating capacity in September 2017, and the command remains confident that the aircraft “will support most elements of the Close Air Support and Air Interdiction missions,” as the report states. But, the report warns, the overstuffed skunkwork project has the potential to be a real Frankenstein's monster: “The complexity of system software, inadequate training and technical manuals, and the overall operating environment aboard the AC-130J diminishes usability.”
The 30mm cannon on a AC-130J Ghostrider gunship at the Lockheed Martin factory in Crestview, Fla., Oct. 24, 2016.U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick
Obviously, the 30mm cannon isn’t the only tool in the Ghostrider's arsenal. The aircraft boasts GPS- and laser-guided AGM-176A Griffin missiles and the deliciously destructive GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs, not to mention the 105mm howitzer jutting from the airframe’s side. Indeed, the service plans on adding even more deadly goodies to the Ghostrider, including upgraded SDBs and powerful AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, to say nothing of that frickin’ laser beam.
But the 30mm issues in particular spell big trouble for the AC-130’s long-held status as a weapon of choice for “danger close” operations. “AC-130s have developed an excellent reputation for being precision tools ideal for ‘danger close’ missions where enemy forces are close to friendly troops, innocent bystanders, or both,” as the War Zone notes. “A loss of calibration or severe vibrations could send shells flying wildly off the mark, potentially leading to friendly fire or civilian casualties.”
On the upside, the report states that the 105 mm howitzer is doing just fine, with its rounds demonstrating “expected lethality against personnel, trucks, and light armored vehicles.” So there’s that, I guess.
The Marine Corps has tapped a new Silicon Valley defense firm to develop a "digital fortress" of networked surveillance systems in order to enhance the situational awareness of security forces at installations around the world.
Marine Corps Installations Command on July 15 announced a $13.5 million sole source contract award to Anduril Industries — the two-year-old defense technology company and Project Maven contractor founded by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey and several former Palantir Technologies executives — for a new Autonomous Surveillance Counter Intrusion Capability (ASCIC) designed to help secure installations against "all manners of intrusion" without additional manpower.
This is no standard intrusion system. Through its AI-driven Lattice Platform network and 32-foot-tall autonomous Sentry Towers, Anduril purports to combine the virtual reality systems that Luckey pioneered at Oculus with Pentagon's most advanced sensors into a simple mobile platform, enhancing an installation's surveillance capabilities with what Wired recently dubbed "a web of all-seeing eyes, with intelligence to know what it sees."
The Marine Corps' dune buggy drone jammer may have downed two Iranian drones in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. military have officials announced.
The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer was transiting the Strait of Hormuz on July 18 when two Iranian drones came dangerously close, according to U.S. Central Command.
"This was a defensive action by the USS Boxer in response to aggressive interactions by two Iranian UAS [unmanned aerial systems] platforms in international waters," CENTCOM spokesman Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown said in a statement. "The Boxer took defensive action and engaged both of these platforms."
Green Beret with terminal cancer meets Trump to rally support for military medical malpractice reform
On July 17, Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal briefly met with President Donald Trump at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina to discuss the eponymous legislation that would finally allow victims of military medical malpractice to sue the U.S. government.
A Green Beret with terminal lung cancer, Stayskal has spent the last year fighting to change the Feres Doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court precedent that bars service members like him from suing the government for negligence or wrongdoing.
The Pentagon is no longer topless. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm Mark Esper as the United States' first permanent defense secretary in more than seven months.
Esper is expected to be sworn in as defense secretary later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.
"We are grateful for the Senate leadership and the Senate Armed Services Committee's willingness to quickly move through this process," Hoffman said.
The new trailer for Top Gun: Maverick that dropped last week was indisputably the white-knuckle thrill ride of the summer, a blur of aerial acrobatics and beach volleyball that made us wonder how we ever lost that lovin' feeling in the decades since we first met Pete "Maverick" Mitchell back in 1986.
But it also made us wonder something else: Why is Maverick still flying combat missions in an F/A-18 Super Hornet as a 57-year-old captain after more than 30 years of service?