USAF may remove AC-130 gunship’s 105mm cannon

US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is considering to remove the AC-130J Ghostrider’s powerful 105mm cannon as early as 2026. So the days of this howitzer-sized weapon, used to carry out punishing strikes on ground targets, maybe numbered. As reported by Defense News, the idea comes as the service rethinks how it will use the heavily armed gunship following the end of the Afghanistan War and amid a greater focus on America’s top adversary, China.

As the military writ large in a sophisticated war against an advanced adversary such as China, the changes could amount to a major shift in how the USAF famed gunship would support special operations forces.

AC-130 gunship’s upgrades relevant in a war against China

The addition of small cruise missiles for standoff strikes; an advanced active electronically scanned array radar for improved tracking of ground targets; and a series of communications and networking upgrades to better tie into the joint force’s command-and-control networks are also among the other changes to the Ghostrider that AFSOC is eyeing.

“To field operational concepts and technologies relevant in the current and future strategic competition environments, AFSOC is currently assessing the capabilities of the AC-130J Ghostrider,” the command said in a statement to Defense News. “The goal of this review is to enhance the lethality, versatility and adaptability of the AC-130J in a wide range of operational scenarios while ensuring it remains a vital asset within AFSOC.”

USAF hasn’t decided yet to remove AC-130 gunship’s 105mm cannon

A USAF official said on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly that the service hasn’t made a final decision on the fate of the 105mm cannon and what — if anything — would replace it. AFSOC is using research and development funding to conduct an analysis through 2025.

However, AFSOC has all but decided to remove the 105mm cannon, a source in the gunship community, who spoke to Defense News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

He explained that removing the 105mm cannon from the Ghostrider’s left side would create an imbalance in the aircraft’s center of gravity, among other structural issues. He also pointed out that the price tag to remove the weapon and fix the airframe across the fleet would likely be in the millions of dollars.

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High-energy laser ruled out

The high-energy laser currently undergoing tests and once considered for the AC-130J has been ruled out as replacement for the cannon because placing a laser where the 105mm gun is now yields so much air turbulence that it would upset the laser’s beam, another USAF official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely, explained.

And that official threw cold water on the idea of an AC-130J one day going into battle armed with a laser.

AFSOC originally wanted a fleet of 37 Ghostriders to replace the now-retired AC-130H Spectre, AC-130U Spooky and AC-130W Stinger II aircraft, but last year cut off procurement at 31.

The AC-130J Ghostrider

The AC-130J is a highly modified C-130J aircraft that contains many advanced features.

The Ghostrider is modified with the 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 30mm and 105mm weapons.

The AC-130J Ghostrider’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense. Air interdiction missions are conducted against pre-planned targets or targets of opportunity and include strike coordination and reconnaissance and overwatch mission sets. The AC-130J provides ground forces an expeditionary, direct-fire platform that is persistent, ideally suited for urban operations and delivers precision low-yield munitions against ground targets.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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