Special Operations: Son Of Spooky A Shorty

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July 1, 2008: SOCOMs gunships (the AC-130) are wearing out because of heavy use in combat. In 5-10 years, all of them will have to be retired, or heavily rebuilt. So the air force portion of SOCOM (AFSOC, Air Force Special Operations Command) is going to try converting new light (two engine) transports to "light gunships."

Last year, the U.S. Army and Air Force have agreed on using the Italian C-27J two engine transport, to replace the elderly C-23s (used, via a special Congressional loophole, by the U.S. Army National Guard), and thus provide more small transports for delivering cargos in places even C-130s can't reach. The C-27J (a joint U.S./Italian upgrade of the Italian G-222) is a 28 ton aircraft that can carry nine tons for up to 2,500 kilometers and land on smaller airfields than the C-130 can handle. The new "Joint Cargo Aircraft" is officially designated the C27B. The army and air force want to buy 207 C-27Bs over the next ten years (if Congress will give them the money) and share operation and maintenance of the fleet. In effect, the C-27B carries about half the weight of the current C-130 models serving as gunships.

The U.S. Air Force bought ten C-27Js in the 1990s, but took them out of service because it was cheaper to deliver stuff via the larger C-130. However, the C-27J is a favorite with many other air forces, and draws on technology from the C-130J (the latest version of the aircraft) program (using the same engines, propellers and electronic items). The C-27Js will cost about $30 million each, and much of the work will be done in the United States, although the aircraft will be assembled in Italy.

SOCOM will scrounge up a C-27J (they have the money and authority to just go do that) in the next year and mount a pair of 30mm automatic cannon on them, along with the AC-130 sensors and communications gear. AC-130s now also mount Hellfire missiles, which the C-27B should be able to accommodate. The one thing the "AC-XX" (as this experiment has been dubbed) will probably not get is the 105mm howitzer, whose recoil was barely contained by the larger C-130. But the missiles were meant to replace the 105mm weapon anyway. Within two years, AFSOC hopes to prove the AC-XX acceptable, and then more aircraft can be ordered to replace the current AC-130 fleet. A bonus with this switch is that the AC-27B will be built so weapons and sensors will be modular, and easily installed, or removed, from any C-27B, making the C-27B fleet more flexible.

Gunships first appeared, using World War II era C-47 transports, in the 1960s over Vietnam. The troops called the gunships, which liked to operate at night, "Spooky."

 


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