New US AFSOC gunship?

from Aviation Week:

New Gunship Could Get Fresh Start In 2010

By Amy Butler

FT. WALTON BEACH, Fla. – U.S. Special Operations Command is proposing to start a new gunship in the fiscal 2010 budget, but it remains to be seen whether the tight fiscal environment will support a new program, according to Pentagon officials.

Keith Sanders, deputy director of air warfare for the Pentagon acquisition chief, says the gunship will be a more flexible system than today’s AC-130H/U aircraft. One requirement likely to emerge is to operate the gunship safely in an urban environment such as Baghdad.

AC-130H

AC-130H

Sanders and others spoke here March 10 at the Precision Strike Association’s Annual Review conference. President Barack Obama’s defense budget for next fiscal year is expected to be detailed by next month.

Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) officials had previously hoped to base a future gunship on the to-be-designed 2018 bomber, which would provide a huge leap in capability with the addition of low-observable attributes. But the bomber program is expected to slip beyond 2018, and the cost would likely have been too high for the special operations community to afford the system.

The forthcoming gunship would build off of existing platforms using existing weapons or those near maturity, says one U.S. Special Operations Command official here. The official declined to name a platform.

Likely candidates include the L-3 Communications/Alenia North America C-27J. Already, AFSOC is looking at options using a decommissioned C-27 as a ground-based test bed. Officials also are exploring various weapons suites, including the current 24mm or 40mm guns on the AC-130U, as well as a newer 30mm weapon. Small precision-guided munitions are also likely to be included in the system.

C27J "Spartan"

C27J "Spartan"

Also on the table is Lockheed Martin’s C-130J, which is being used as the host platform for the new HC-MC-130J infiltration/exfiltration aircraft for the Air Force. Size, however, could be an issue. Pentagon officials may want to shrink the forward-based footprint for a future gunship compared to that of the AC-130H/U.

Air Force Lt. Col. Brenda Cartier, commander of the 4th Special Operations Squadron, which operates 17 AC-130U gunships, says that the center-wing boxes on her squadron’s aircraft are holding up well for the moment. These are the parts most likely to experience stress from the high operations tempo of the gunship fleet; operators are flying the aircraft three to four times more than predicted to support global operations, she says.

AC-130U

AC-130U

The bulk of the AC-130U missions abroad are close air support, though the aircraft also provide some base defense, convoy support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to ground personnel.

One hope she has for the fleet is to upgrade the old fire control computers on the AC-130U to a Windows-based computer system. Cartier also noted the AC-130U has executed some air-launched release tests of the Special Operations Precision Guided Munition (SOPGM), a new variant of the Army’s Viper Strike munition, which is under 50 pounds and includes a guidance kit.

C-27 info page: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/c-27.htm



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