The first glimpse of a U.S. Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship with an upgraded 105mm cannon comes from photos taken at a recent event at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.
The interior details of an AC-130J Ghost Rider gunship aircraft were first shown at an event at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, equipped with an upgraded Gun Aircraft Unit (GAU) featuring a 105mm howitzer, which is part of the Air Force, but the upgrade of the 105mm howitzer is the responsibility of the U.S. Navy. The old M102 howitzer belonged to the Army, but the Army has long retired it and no longer desired to upgrade it, so the Navy upgraded its anti-recoil system instead. Earlier this year, the U.S. Navy announced that it had delivered at least one prototype gun to replace the old howitzers, which had been in service for decades on various AC-130 gunboat aircraft.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force developed gunship aircraft to cut off the famous “Ho Chi Minh Trail”. The earliest gunboat aircraft were mainly modified with older transport aircraft such as the C-46 or C-47, but because of the lower wing design of these older aircraft, it was blocking the target so the C-119 and C-130 transport aircraft were used later. AlthoughThe gunship aircraft deployed in Vietnam in small numbers were very successful, destroying a large number of North Vietnamese targets. After the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force continued to develop and upgrade new gunboat aircraft based on the C-130.
The AC-130 has been equipped with weapons such as the GAU-2/A 7.62 mm rotary tube “Mini Gun”, the M61 “Vulcan Gun”, and the Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. Initially, the US Air Force planned to abandon the installation of the M102 howitzer on the AC-130J, which entered service in 1964 as a 105 mm towed howitzer for the Army Artillery Unit.
Starting with the AC-130E during the Vietnam War, every AC-130 since then has been equipped with this howitzer. By 2004, the US Air Force’s AC-130 was the only platform still using the M102 howitzer, so the use and maintenance of such weapons were becoming increasingly difficult. As a result, it was originally planned that the AC-130J would be primarily equipped with a variety of precision-guided munitions, as well as a GAU-23/A 30 mm automatic gun. However, the 105 mm howitzer still has a unique advantage over guided missiles and bombs and smaller caliber artillery, which can strike a variety of cluster targets in a variety of situations. For example, a howitzer can throw a lot of fire at a target such as bunker or armored vehicle in a short period of time, and then easily switch to a new target. Howitzers are also more flexible and can be easily switched to different types of ammunition during firing, including high-explosive bombs and smoke grenades.
The US Air Force also planned to replace the AC-130’s 105 mm rifled gun with a 120 mm smoothbore breech loading mortar, which in addition to firing conventional shells, could also launch precision-guided munitions and even switchblade drones to increase the range of the AC-130 and make it more viable in medium- and high-threat areas, but it was not implemented in the end. The Air Force then decided to keep the M102 on the AC-130J and AC-130W. The Navy intended for improving and developing a new design to ensure that the Air Force’s AC-130 could continue to use this howitzer.
It is unclear how many of the Navy’s upgraded 105mm howitzers are common to the M102, with the newly upgraded howitzer using a new anti-recoil mechanism and the recoiling machine at the top changing from one to two side-by-side, which can reduce the recoil of the fuselage and increase the service life of the fuselage. In addition, pictures of the prototype gun released by the Navy in January showed that the muzzle had some more threads, the purpose of which was not known at the time, and the latest photos show that a new type of muzzle flame suppressor is installed at the muzzle to reduce the flame of the muzzle.
The Air Force retired all AC-130Us in 2020 and plans to send all seven AC-130Ws to Arizona’s aircraft cemetery for mothballing by the end of next year. There are currently 24 AC-130Js in the US Air Force, and the final number is expected to reach 37. The new howitzer is not the only new weapon currently planned by the AC-130J. Last year, the U.S. Air Force received the first delivery of a prototype of a solid-state laser directed energy weapon that will be fitted to the AC-130J. The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) said in May that the laser is still being tested on the ground, and actual flight testing is expected to begin next year.