The AC 130 has been punishing terrorists and insurgents for decades, and has saved hundreds of lives with its close air support. The AC-130 is armed with a 105mm cannon, a 30mm GAU-23/A cannon, and wing pylons designed to haul both GBU-39B small diameter bombs and AGM-114 hellfire missiles, making it essentially a flying tank. Troops fighting terrorists knew they could count on the AC-130s to get them out of harm’s way.
But against Chinese and Russian air defenses, the AC-130 and MC-130 transport aircraft may find themselves irrelevant. That is why US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is looking to turn the AC-130 into an airborne missile launcher that would fire cruise missiles capable of hitting targets up to 460 miles away.
SOCOM also wants its MC-130J Commando II Multimission combat transport & Special Ops tanker to have amphibious capabilities. The MC-130s can already land just about anywhere except on water. The Chinese AG600, developed in 2018, already has that capability.
Stavros Atlamazoglou of the Business Insider writes (abridged):
During the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, US forces had the decisive advantage of air superiority.
Conventional troops and special operators knew that they could almost always call-in airstrikes or close air support against an enemy force. But that capability might not be available if a conflict with China and Russia breaks out.
In contested airspace, the AC-130 gunship and MC-130 transport aircraft — some of the most capable and loved aircraft in the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) arsenal — will be in danger of becoming irrelevant, unable to do their missions amid the thicket of Chinese and Russian air defenses.
So SOCOM is looking for new ways to use those venerable aircraft. By equipping AC-130 with cruise missiles and turning the MC-130 into a float plane, US commandos may be able to keep them in the fight.
For over six decades, the different variants of the AC-130 have been supporting conventional and special-operations troops, seeing action in all major and minor conflicts since the Vietnam War. […]
Now SOCOM wants to develop a “Stand-Off Precision Guided Weapon” that the AC-130 can fire from long distances, allowing it to strike targets while staying out of the reach of enemy fire.
According to a recent solicitation, the command is looking for a cruise missile with a range of at least 230 miles and up to 460 miles with a warhead of at least 13 pounds but potentially up to 37 pounds.
Cruise missiles are subsonic munition that fly at low altitudes, making them harder to detect, but SOCOM is also wants it to have electronic systems that enable it to acquire and reacquire targets after it has been fired.
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