Spooky gunship armed with new cannons

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
Spooky is about to get a little scarier.

Crews at Hurlburt Field have put the finishing touches on the first AC-130U Spooky gunship armed with the 30 mm Bushmaster cannon. The rearmed Spooky retains its 105 mm cannon but replaces the 25 mm and 40 mm guns with Bushmasters.

The project is a "win-win," according to Air Force Special Operations Command officials -- unless you're one of the bad guys.

"We're buying increased lethality and accuracy at the same time we're improving reliability," said Lt. Col. Mike Gottstine, AFSOC's chief of strike/intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements, "The bottom line is we'll have more gunships available for the warfighter on a day-to-day basis."

The aging 40 mm Bofors cannon, which has been around in various guises since World War II, is increasingly hard to maintain, Colonel Gottstine said, and there is no production line set up to replace shrinking ammunition stocks. While the 25 mm gun is newer, he said, "it is a maintenance hog as far as the amount of money and time we spend maintaining the ammo handling system." In addition, because no other Air Force aircraft use the 25 mm cannon, no one is working on developing new types of ammunition that could be effective for gunship operations, he said.

The Bushmaster cannon, on the other hand, will arm the Marine Corps' new amphibious assault vehicle, is installed on some Navy ships and is being looked at for uses in other capacities. Because of that, "the services are developing a lot of variations of 30 mm ammo," Colonel Gottstine said. "Different types of ammo will allow us to perform different missions or maybe give us some options to prosecute our targets differently."

The 25 mm cannon was originally installed in gunships as a suppression weapon to keep enemy troops pinned down so they could not move or shoot, said Paul Brousseau, AFSOC AC-130U requirements contractor support. However, the 25 mm has no air burst capability, which is often preferable for suppression fire, he said. "The Marine Corps is looking at a 30 mm airburst round that could possibly be a good capability for us sometime in the future," he said.

The new cannon fires 200 rounds a minute, faster than the 40 mm and a bit slower than the 25 mm guns it replaces, Colonel Gottstine said. "The 25 mm throws a lot of lead down but it scatters it more than the 30 mm will. We're expecting increased lethality and increased accuracy with this weapon," he said. "Hits are what counts."

Gunners from the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field are ready to put their new weapon to the test.

"It's going to be fun, it's going to be interesting," said Master Sgt. Chris Jette, an aerial gunner with 1st Special Operations Group standardization/evaluation. "Overall, we don't know what the round actually does from our platform until they do the testing, but it looks like it's going to be good."

"I'm impressed with how easy it is to work on," said Tech. Sgt. Ben Lerman, an aerial gunner with the 4th Special Operations Squadron. "Hopefully, it will make our job as gunners easier. Commonality between the (forward and rear guns) means we will have interchangeability of parts so we can fix them in the air."

The ability to perform repairs while airborne is important, Sergeant Jette said.

"We can actually troubleshoot and repair the front gun where, with the 25 mm, once it breaks we can't do anything to it," he said.

The 30 mm-armed AC-130U will undergo flight testing through May. It should be declared operational and in the hands of "U-boat" crews from the 4th SOS in July, Mr. Brousseau said. Three more modified U-model gunships will join the fleet by December 2007, he said.

The rest of the fleet will be modified as funding is available, with installation probably in the mid-2009 time frame, he said. The fleetwide modification should be complete by fiscal 2010, he said.

The desired goal is to eventually install the 30 mm cannons on AFSOC's AC-130H Spectre fleet as well, Colonel Gottstine said.

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