The Pentagon quietly reduces the fleet of US special operations combat ships

The Pentagon quietly reduced the purchase of its new AC-130J Ghostrider special operations combat ships, reducing the fleet from 37 to 30.

The United States Special Operations Command had planned to purchase nearly 40 Ghostriders to replace older gunships: the AC-130H Spectre, AC-130W Stinger II and AC-130U Spooky. Each of these 37 aircraft is now retired.

Rather than swap airframes one for one as planned, SOCOM wants to end the decade-long AC-130J acquisition at seven hours out of the full program.

SOCOM slipped mentions of the change in its budget request for fiscal year 2023, writing that it would maintain a total of 30 AC-130Js. Each cell costs $165 million apiece, according to an Air Force fact sheet.

The military has purchased 31 of Lockheed Martin’s gunships for combat use, but will not replace one that flew too hard during testing and is no longer airworthy. This aircraft is now used to train airmen on the ground.

“No purchases are planned in [fiscal] 2024,” SOCOM said.

The Army chose to pursue a smaller fleet of AC-130Js as a means of “better position [Air Force Special Operations Command] for future combat,” spokesman Lt. Col. Becky Heyse said Thursday.

“The C-130Js have already been purchased and it was decided not to modify them to become AC-130Js (extensive modifications needed to add the gun and other capabilities),” Heyse said. “The remaining C-130Js go to the 193rd[SpecialOperationsSquadronasMC-130Jstorecapitalizetheirfleet”[SpecialOperationsSquadronasMC-130Jstorecapitalizetheirfleet”[Escadrond’opérationsspécialesentantqueMC-130Jpourrecapitaliserleurflotte”[SpecialOperationsSquadronasMC-130Jstorecapitalizetheirfleet”

The last AC-130J arrived at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico on November 2.

“The aircraft and its predecessors exceeded all of our expectations and kept more Americans alive than any other aircraft on the battlefield,” said Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, chief of Air Force Special Operations Command. , during the delivery ceremony.

The other 30 Ghostriders are stationed at Cannon and Hurlburt Field, Florida. The school is expected to move from Hurlburt to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico by October 2023.

AC-130 gunships have been a mainstay of combat since the Vietnam War and are constantly deployed for conventional and special operations missions around the world.

Two pilots, a combat systems officer, a weapon system operator, a sensor operator, and four special mission airmen make up the Ghostrider’s crew.

The newest Model J is said to be the most heavily armed gunship in history, with the ability to sell 30mm and 105mm guns, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and bombs. small diameter GBU-39. It also served as a testbed for an experimental high-energy laser weapon.

“The AC-130J provides ground forces with a persistent direct-fire expeditionary platform that is persistent, well suited for urban operations, and provides low-yield precision munitions against ground targets,” according to the Air Force.

Spurred in part by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, the military is now turning its attention to hardware and software that could give it the upper hand against advanced armies like China.

This has led to decisions to divest and downsize aircraft that may be less useful in these scenarios, including the Air Force’s decision to reduce its fleet of search and rescue helicopters by combat of about 25 cells.

AFSOC is also exploring what the next chapter might look like for its elite Airmen. Slife said the command could venture further into space and cyberspace, and figure out how to adapt traditional missions like close air support for tougher combat.

“The future will be different from what we have seen for the past 20 years,” Slife said. “One thing I am certain of is that this aircraft will be relevant regardless of the future operating environment.”

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, The Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post, and others. .

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