The US Air Force (USAF) Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has received the first upgraded Lockheed Martin-manufactured aircraft, AC-130J Ghostrider gunship.
The Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider aircraft was delivered to the 4th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) at Hurlburt Field and is expected to eventually replace the squadron’s AC-130U Spooky gunship.
Block 30 upgrade involves enhancements in software and avionics technology over the existing Block 20 fleet.
AFSOC headquarters AC-130J requirements chief major Brandon Hughes said: “The Block 30 AC-130J is now our most lethal aircraft in AFSOC’s inventory.”
The upgraded Ghostrider gunship features the precision strike package, which includes a mission management console, a robust communications suite, two electro-optical / infrared sensors, and advanced fire control equipment.
In addition, the new gunship offers a precision-guided munitions delivery capability and is armed with trainable 30mm Mk 44 Bushmaster II and 105mm M102 howitzer weapons.
Other enhancements include updated crew seats with added safety features and relocation of equipment into more optimal locations.
1st Special Operations Wing commander colonel Michael Conley said: “The men and women of the 4th SOS have been executing the close air support and air interdiction mission with one of the most feared gunships, the AC-130U, for 20 years.
“These updated capabilities provide them the most modernised gunship to date.”
Block 30 AC-130J will be able to perform the same mission sets as the Spooky. Upgraded turboprop engines drive down the operational cost of the Ghostrider per flying hour by around one-third.
Conley added: “The technology in this fifth-generation gunship will ensure our combat relevance in the skies above today’s battlefields and the battlefields of the future.”
The Ghostrider gunship achieved initial operational capability in September 2017.
Prior to operational deployment of the first Block 30 AC-130J, the 4th SOS will keep it in testing status for nearly one year.
The Spooky gunship has been in operation for more than 20 years and is expected to be retired by the end of next year.