The Upgraded AC-130 Gunship Embraces The Old And The New

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An AC-130U Gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron flies a local training mission on Jan. 27, 2011, at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The AC-130U "Spooky" gunship is the primary weapon of Air Force Special Operations Command.
Photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock

Amid the high-tech troubles of the F-35 program and the battle over the fate of the A-10 Warthog, an old Air Force workhorse is getting an upgrade by mixing proven weapons with new technology.


The AC-130 “Spectre” gunship, which made its combat debut during the Vietnam War, has a fearsome reputation. Often paired with special operations teams, AC-130s provide close air support from tight orbits high above the battlefield. The AC-130s have mounted a variety of armaments over the years, but the most well-known configuration is the AC-130U “Spooky” --- the U is armed with a 25mm rotary cannon, a 40mm Bofors cannon, and a 105mm howitzer. The mounted artillery piece gives the AC-130 powerful and accurate firepower for a low cost. But newer versions of the legendary gunship --- the AC-130J  “Ghostrider” and the AC-130W “Stinger” --- were slated to remove the howitzer for more advanced bombs and missiles and a single 30mm cannon.

However, those plans have changed. In remarks to reporters after a meeting at the National Defense Industry Association on Jan. 27, Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold said that some AC-130Js will mount the 105mm howitzer after all. Heithold, who is the current head of Air Force Special Operations Command, outlined the plan to bring back the 105 on the new AC130Js: “About the third plane, we cut in the 105. Technology-wise, this is not a tough thing to do.” Indeed, AC-130Ws operating in Afghanistan have already been modified by crews to carry the 105mm. The howitzers are also relatively cheap, at about $400 per shell.

Gunships will also be getting some new equipment in addition to old standbys. The Air Force wants to improve the AC-130’s survivability; the design is essentially a cargo plane with weapons and sensors, after all. The Air Force is searching for a system capable of defeating radar-guided missile threats. But the most radical new technology the Air Force wants for AC-130s is a directed-energy weapon.

It’s a testament to the AC-130’s longevity and vital role that an airframe originally introduced in 1956 is slated to mount one of the first combat laser weapons. The  continued improvement of the AC-130 sets the example for upgrading proven weapon systems with new technology, rather than pursuing costly high-tech programs at the expense of important capabilities.

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"I will just tell you that this time last year we were in the red, and now we're in the green which is — the momentum's there and we see it continuing throughout the end of the year," Muth said, adding that the service hit recruiting numbers in February that haven't been hit during that month since 2014.

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Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

We are women veterans who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our service – as aviators, ship drivers, intelligence analysts, engineers, professors, and diplomats — spans decades. We have served in times of peace and war, separated from our families and loved ones. We are proud of our accomplishments, particularly as many were earned while immersed in a military culture that often ignores and demeans women's contributions. We are veterans.

Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.

Recent allegations that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie allegedly sought to intentionally discredit a female veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA medical center allow no such pretense.

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KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.

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A U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk crew chief with the New Jersey National Guard's 1-171st General Support Aviation Battalion stands for a portrait at the Army Aviation Support Facility on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Feb. 3, 2020 (Air National Guard photo / Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

Active-duty service members, Reservists and National Guard members often serve side-by-side performing highly skilled and dangerous jobs, such as parachuting, explosives demolition and flight deck operations.

Reservists and Guard members are required to undergo the same training as specialized active-duty troops, and they face the same risks. Yet the extra incentive pay they receive for their work — called hazardous duty incentive pay — is merely a fraction of what their active-duty counterparts receive for performing the same job.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-3 of Moorestown, are partnering on legislation to correct the inequity. Known as the Guard and Reserve Hazard Duty Pay Equity Act, the bill seeks to standardize payment of hazardous duty incentive pay for all members of the armed services, including Reserve and National Guard components.

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Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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