Military jets such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning get a lot of attention. They’re sleek, fast, and bristling with high-tech gadgetry. Sometimes, however, there’s no replacement for displacement — and that’s where the AC-130 gunship comes into play.
Boasting four massive turboprop engines, the aircraft is anything but cutting edge. While its electronics have been routinely upgraded, the AC-130 air frame was developed in the 1960s, and the AC-130 has seen action in nearly every air conflict since Vietnam.
Now, the latest versions of the venerable gunship are receiving a much-needed weapons upgrade: A 105mm howitzer cannon.
Dubbed the “M102,” the massive gun will be added to the AC-130J “Ghostrider” and AC-130W “Stinger II” variants of aircraft. Those platforms already carry a smaller 30mm cannon, but Air Force decision makers wanted to give the flying battleships an even more fearsome arsenal.
“I want to have two guns,” Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold explained bluntly to reporters in Orlando, according to the Air Force Times.
The special operations commander did not elaborate further. The reason is presumably, “Because America.”
Those two guns will supplement additional weapons and sensors that are already standard on the Ghostrider and Stinger II, such as AGM-176A Griffin missiles and GBU-30 small diameter bombs. An array of detailed sensors help guide each aircraft’s weapons in nearly all weather conditions.
Check out a Gostrider in action here:
While it is a new addition to the Ghostrider and Stinger II, the M102 howitzer has been used on AC-130 aircraft in the past. The powerful gun was used with great effect in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Air Force brass first proposed the revival of the 105mm gun several years ago, according to the auto-oriented website TheDrive.com. But the service dithered about whether the latest AC-130s would actually receive the powerful cannon. Finally, firepower prevailed.
As part of the Air Force’s constant upgrade program, the “J” variant of the AC-130 is replacing several past iterations of the same aircraft. The AC-130H “Spectre” gunship was retired in 2015 after many years in the War on Terror, while the “W” aircraft is a modified version of a previous air frame.
The constant improvements of the 50-year-old AC-130 have shown that you can teach an old dog new tricks — and there’s something classically American about a flying cannon that just won’t die.
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