US Air Force to test high-energy laser from AC-130J Ghostrider gunship

At the start of the Vietnam War, the US Air Force deployed a new concept fighter, the Gunship, initially a WWII C-47 Dakota oat transport with port machine guns and intended to support the forces. infantry on the ground engaged in fierce combat against the Viêt-cong adversary. Thus was born the AC-47 Spooky, which became one of the main weapons of the Air Commando Squadron. But it quickly became clear that the C-47 was too vulnerable for this mission as the intensity of the fighting increased, with no less than 19 aircraft destroyed, including 12 by enemy fire, out of the 41 aircraft engaged in Vietnam between 1064 and 1968. The US Air Force then entrusted Lockheed Martin, for the airframe, and Boeing for the weapon system, the mission to convert the new C-130 Hercules for this mission. The first AC-130 Gunship II took off in 1966, and it joined the US Air Force in Vietnam in September 1967, which says a lot about the engineering capabilities of the time, even without a computer-aided design. nor digital twins. The new planes quickly began their first missions over Laos and Cambodia, in particular to neutralize the famous “Oh-Chi-Minh” track which made it possible to supply food and materials to the Vietnamese guerrillas in South Vietnam.

The AC-130 was intensely used at the end of the Vietnam War, and 6 aircraft were shot down by anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles from the Viet-minh. One of them was notably lost on the sidelines of the "Bat 21" mission made famous by the eponymous film, aimed at recovering the navigator Gene Hambelton, ejected and the only survivor of an EB-66 hit by an SA-2 missile. North Vietnamese in March 1972. However, the AC-130 continued to evolve until the AC-130H Specter version, which carried 2 Gatling guns of 20 mm, a Bofors L60 40 mm gun, and a howitzer of 105 mm M102, coupled with ultra-modern low light intensity electro-optical systems for the time, giving the device a firepower to match the legend it was to form, the device and these descendant having participated in the majority of American military engagements since that date. The latest version of this aircraft, which entered service in 2018 and designated AC-130J Ghostider, carries a 30 mm GAU-13 / A automatic cannon (the one used in particular on the Swedish, Finnish and Swiss CV90 armored vehicles), an M102 howitzer of 105mm, and an ammunition-multiple launcher armed with 10 AGM-176 Griffin missiles or GBU-44 / B Viper Strike light guided bombs, as well as AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and GBU-39 or GBU-53 in payload points under the wings, giving the aircraft unparalleled precision firepower.

Close-up of the weapons of the C-130E Specter, with the M102 105mm howitzer, the L60 Bofors 40mm gun, and the 20mm Gatling gun

However, the US Air Force did not intend to stop there. Faced with the rapid rise in power of ground-to-air systems, but also of drones and robotic armored vehicles, he had to equip his Ghostrider with a weapon system that was both powerful, very precise, versatile as well against aerial targets. and terrestrial, and compatible with the available space and the configuration of the device. This is why she entrusted in 2019 to Lockheed-Martin the mission of designing a high-energy laser system intended to take place on board the aircraft, possibly instead of the 105mm howitzer. October 6, 2021, Lockheed announced that its Airborne High Energy Laser is now ready, and had been transferred to the US Air Force to be tested, evaluated with the other equipment arming the aircraft, then integrated aboard an AC-130J Ghostrider.

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