It's been just over four months since the Air Force's AC-130J Ghostrider kicked off combat missions in the skies above Afghanistan, and the aircraft that the service once described as "the ultimate battle plane" and "a bomb truck with guns on it" is already bringing the pain on a daily basis.
Speaking to Stars & Stripes, Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component–Afghanistan commander Col. Terence Taylor revealed that the Ghostrider has flown a total of 218 sorties amounting to 1,380 hours over roughly 130 days, which shakes out to an average of five sorties every three days since the aircraft first arrived downrange in late June.
Based on that average, the Ghostrider likely flew 168 sorties between late June and the end of September alone — which, according to airpower data from Air Forces Central Command on sorties conducted in support of NATO's Resolute Support mission through September 30th, means that Ghostrider sorties accounted for roughly 9.1 percent of the 1,838 combat sorties that took place during the first nine months of 2019 where at least one weapon was released.
This should come as no surprise: According to Taylor, U.S. forces fighting the Taliban downrange simply can't get enough of the new battlewagon.
"Every night, the AC-130J is flying," he told Stars & Stripes on Wednesday. "The people they are supporting are requesting them every single night."
An AC-130J Ghostrider gunship assigned to the 73rd Special Operations Squadron takes off from Hurlburt Field, Florida, Sept. 26, 2019
(U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Joseph P. Leveille)
The Ghostrider first arrived "just days before" the June 28 change of command ceremony for new AFSOC commander Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News, deploying to relieve the AC-130U Spooky following that aircraft's final combat sorties that month.
There's an obvious reason that the Ghostrider has been in such high demand: the gunship comes equipped with the standard 105mm cannon and an additional 30mm GAU-23/A cannon, along with wing pylons designed to haul both GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
The Ghostrider's 30mm cannon in particular is "almost like a sniper rifle. ... It's that precise, it can pretty much hit first shot, first kill," then-1st SOW commander Col. Tom Palenske told Millitary.com back in 2017, stating that the aircraft is "going to the most lethal, with the most loiter time, probably the most requested weapons system from ground forces in the history of warfare."
It looks like Palenske was right, as CJSOAC-A enlisted leader Chief Master Sgt. Edward Fry told Stars & Stripes.
"Them hearing the sound of the gunship overhead, that in many ways serves to embolden them," he told Stars & Stripes of Afghan security forces downrange. "Even if the gunship doesn't fire one round, it still provides that utility."