The first AC-130J Ghostrider landed at Hurlburt Field, Florida July 29, making it Air Force Special Operations Command’s (AFSOC’s) first AC-130J. After completing the initial developmental test and evaluation by the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, the aircraft will be flown by the 1st Special Operations Group (SOG) Detachment 2 and maintained by the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (SOAMXS) during its initial operational tests and evaluations at Hurlburt Field.
«Putting it through these tests will allow us to wring out the AC-130J in a simulated combat environment, instead of the more rigid flight profiles in formal developmental testing», said Lieutenant Colonel Brett DeAngelis, the 1st SOG Detachment 2 commander. «Now that we know the equipment works when we turn it on, it’s our task to determine the best way to employ our newest asset».
«The AC-130J brings new technology to the table for AFSOC with more efficient engines, improved fuel efficiency and the ability to fly higher, further and quieter», said Master Sergeant Michael Ezell, the 1st SOAMXS production superintendent. «Additionally, the modified weapons system it possesses is a precision strike package that was collected from the older models, such as the laser-guided bombs and AGM-176 Griffin bombs, and combined to give us all the capabilities of the AC-130W Stinger II and AC-130U Spooky all in one package».
The AC-130J is a modified MC-130J Commando II, containing advanced features that will enable it to provide ground forces with an expeditionary, direct-fire platform that is persistent, suited for urban operations and capable of delivering precision munitions against ground targets.
«This is an exciting transition as we move the AC-130J from the test community to the operational community», DeAngelis said. «While we still have initial operational testing in front of us to accomplish, it will now be done by aircrews selected for their combat expertise, instead of their testing background».
A cadre of 60 aircrew and maintainers were selected by the Air Force Personnel Center to stand up the program, and there will be an additional 30 contractors to help work on the new gunship. «We will be training on the airplane, getting all the qualifications and hands-on experience we need to be able to perform operational testing in order to give an exact picture of how this plane will operate in a real-world environment», Ezell said. «Our focus right now is to learn how to maintain the aircraft and the operators will learn how to fly it and get ready for (initial operational test and evaluation), which should start later this year».
Airmen were hand selected to work on the new AC-130J; they encompass a solid background and level of expertise on C-130Js. The maintenance team cadre came from Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, Dyess AFB, Texas, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and Cannon AFB, New Mexico.
«As more AC-130Js are produced and delivered, the older models will slowly be retired», DeAngelis said. «Until then, we’ll hold on to them while the AC-130J completes operational tests and the fleet becomes abundant in numbers».
Operational testing is expected to be complete in spring 2016.
«Detachment 2’s mission is simple; ‘Get it right,’» DeAngelis said. «And we have the right group of people to do just that».
The AC-130J Ghostrider’s primary missions are close air support and air interdiction. Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity and include strike coordination and reconnaissance. The AC-130J will provide ground forces an expeditionary, direct-fire platform that is persistent, ideally suited for urban operations and delivers precision low-yield munitions against ground targets.
The AC-130J is a highly modified C-130J aircraft that contains many advanced features. It contains an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics. The aircraft is capable of extremely accurate navigation due to the fully integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation systems and Global Positioning System. Aircraft defensive systems and color weather radar are integrated as well. The aircraft is capable of Air Refueling with the Universal Air Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI) system. To handle power requirements imposed by the advanced avionics and aircraft systems, the AC-130J is equipped with 60/90 kilo volt amp generators that provide increased DC electrical output. In anticipation of IR countermeasure installation, it is provisioned for Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) installation.
Additionally, the AC-130J is modified with a precision strike package, which includes a mission management console, robust communications suite, two electro-optical/infrared sensors, advanced fire control equipment, precision guided munitions delivery capability as well as trainable 30-mm and 105-mm weapons. The mission management system will fuse sensor, communication, environment, order of battle and threat information into a common operating picture.
The AC-130J is the fourth generation gunship replacing the aging SOF fleet of 37 AC-130H/U/W gunships. AC-130 gunships have an extensive combat history dating to back to Vietnam where gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. Over the past four decades, AC-130s have deployed constantly to hotspots throughout the world in support of special operations and conventional forces. In South America, Africa, Europe and throughout the Middle East, gunships have significantly contributed to mission success.
The first AC-130J aircraft is scheduled to begin developmental test and evaluation in January 2014. The first squadron will be located at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, while other locations are to be determined. Initial operational capacity is expected in fiscal 2017 and the last delivery is scheduled for fiscal 2021. The aircraft was officially named Ghostrider in May 2012.
|Primary Function||Close air support and air interdiction with associated collateral missions|
|Power Plant||4 × Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 Turboprops|
|Thrust||4 × 4,591 shaft horsepower|
|Wingspan||132 feet 7 inch/39.7 m|
|Length||97 feet 9 inch/29.3 m|
|Height||38 feet 10 inch/11.9 m|
|Speed||362 knots/416.6 mph/670.4 km/h at 22,000 feet/6,705.6 m|
|Ceiling||28,000 feet/8,534.4 m with 42,000 lbs/19,051 kg payload|
|Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW)||164,000 lbs/74,389 kg|
|Range||2,607 NM/3,000 miles/4,828 km|
|Two combat systems officers|
|Three enlisted gunners|
|Precision Strike Package (PSP)||30-mm GAU-23/A cannon|
|SOPGM (Standoff Precision Guided Munitions)||GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb|
|AGM-176 Griffin missile|
|Unit Cost||$109 million (fiscal 2010 dollars)|
|Inventory||Active force, 32 by fiscal 2021|